Bohanon: Trumpism Explained

March 21, 2016

by Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D.

I do not support Donald Trump. I will not vote for Donald Trump.

He is a protectionist, I support free-trade. He is for strict restrictions on immigration, I am for more open immigration with the proviso that means-tested entitlements not be available to immigrants until they become citizens. Trump’s budget plans don’t add up and would inevitably add to the federal deficit — in this way he and Bernie Sanders are quite similar. Both wave their hands and say their policies will somehow magically generate unprecedented economic growth and save the day. Sander’s magic is naïve Keynesianism, Trump’s magic is his own personality.

In both cases, I don’t buy it.

I have worked on a college campus for a long time and know lots of people on both sides of the political aisle. (Yes, there are conservatives and classical liberals on college campuses—a minority, but we are here) Some of my more leftward colleagues are for Sanders. However, I don’t know any of them left, center or right; who are for Trump.

So how is he getting 40 percent of the vote in GOP primaries? I think Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan is on to something when she says that Trump’s rise is the rise of “the unprotected.” Voters who are concerned about terrorism, who do not have job security, who feel threatened by foreign competition, who live in unsafe neighborhoods, who think they are looked down upon by social and cultural elites and believe the government is not looking out for them are attracted to Mr. Trump.

Here is some corroborating evidence. The courts have ordered Apple Computer to write software so that the government can de-encrypt the phone of the San Bernardino terrorist. The government is arguing for the order on the grounds of national security, Apple is objecting on the grounds of protecting privacy. The more I learn about the controversy the less I believe it about safety versus privacy, but for better or worse it is easy to boil it down to such a tradeoff.

A recent poll indicated among the general population 50 percent are on the government’s side of the issue, 36 percent are on Apple’s side and 14 percent don’t know. Among those with less than a high school education, the percentage of those on the government’s side is 58 percent, while it is only 46 percent among those with graduate degrees.

Classical liberals and progressives and even some conservatives reflexively take the side of Apple. I know I do. I also know I live in a safe neighborhood, have a steady job and good prospects for a comfortable retirement, as do most all of my academic colleagues. And I will defend my opinion that privacy trumps security. But I become obnoxiously condescending when I say that those who don’t see it my way are simply poor, uneducated and insecure weaklings who are willing to give up freedom in exchange for security. I am also obnoxiously condescending when I say Trump is Mussolini and his supporters are fascists blackshirts- though at times I fear they may be.

More to the point, do those of us who oppose Trump really think we will persuade those who are for Trump to change their minds by insulting them? Or is it that those of us with college degrees think we can shame our less-educated fellow citizens into renouncing Trump?

No wonder Trump’s appeal expands.

Cecil Bohanon, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is a professor of economics at Ball State University.


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