Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Election

Since it looks as if the U.S. presidential election has been decided in favor of Joe Biden, and I've been wasting so much time following it, I thought I'd say a few things so that I can move on to other topics.

Donald Trump's fitness for office has proven to be lower than ever this year. It's hard to imagine anyone doing a poorer job handling the coronavirus pandemic, and the scale of his lies would have been unfathomable a few years ago. What stands out to me is that he has come this far, given that we can now see how stupid many of his decisions have been, even when you examine them within his framework of corrupt self-interest. He unquestionably lost votes by willfully ignoring scientific advice on the pandemic; he could simply have followed the advice of a competent medical team, and the death count would have been considerably lower. The pandemic has slowed the growth of the U.S. economy, and if it had been controlled sooner, the medium-term economic outlook would be better than it is now. It is also surprising to see how much time and effort Trump wasted on the fabrication of corrupt behavior by Hunter and Joe Biden in Ukraine. There was nothing to find there, and he risked removal from office by precipitating his impeachment. If the Republicans in the Senate weren't also corrupt, he would have been removed from office in February. At the moment, he is spouting fantasies about voter fraud, which are going nowhere. It is obvious that he is completely indifferent to the responsible transfer of power and the stability of the federal government.

Because Donald Trump himself is an inherently uninteresting topic, I find it more fruitful to think about the conditions that allowed him to be elected in the first place and gave him a good chance of winning a second term. There is more to be concerned about here, because those conditions will be in place long after Trump is gone. From my point of view, the main underlying problem is voter gullibility. Almost half of the voters in 2016 and 2020 voted for him, acts that I find fundamentally irrational. It was well known in 2016 to anyone who took the time to study his past that Trump had no experience or interest in governing and was guaranteed to engage in self-serving behavior. It was also clear that whatever policies he had were uninformed and would be used primarily for his own benefit. During his years in office, he took credit for the strength of the economy, which he didn't deserve, and alienated many foreign allies. Most dictators around the world were glad to see him in power. Those voters who supported Trump seem to occupy a different sociological group from those who voted against him.

I have a reasonable amount of experience in Republican versus Democratic thinking, because I have lived in both geographic regions. The contrast between so-called "conservatives" and "élites" has some basis in reality, though those terms hardly describe the actual complexity. In the U.S., practically everything comes down to money, and the grievances of the conservatives usually amount to thinking that they deserve more of it, meaning that they should have better jobs and lower taxes. Jobs were not always an issue for conservatives, but have become more so in recent years, with the rapidly changing economy. In my view, particularly in rural areas, many of the economic woes are the result of increased automation and competition from abroad in manufacturing, as well as the decline in extractive industries such as coal mining. The élites, or, more generally, liberals, tend to be urban-based and work in service and tech industries that aren't affected by declines in manufacturing or mining. I have little sympathy for conservatives who listen to nonsense from politicians like Trump when they should be thinking about what kind of education they need and where they should live in order to get good jobs. Many of the so-called élites simply got good educations and were willing to move for job opportunities. Rather than getting government off the backs of people, the government should be incentivizing poor conservatives to get the proper training and move if necessary, as suggested by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. If you accept the premise that capitalism is good, as most conservatives do (I don't), you must accept that the responsibility of corporate executives is to move jobs to wherever the costs are lowest. It is a contradiction of capitalism for conservatives to demand that jobs be brought to their regions simply to provide them with well-paying jobs. 

Besides the above, I think that Americans have become lazy, self-entitled and jealous, and that for purely political reasons the Republican Party has chosen to cater to whiny conservatives just so that they can remain in office. The so-called Republican vision is actually a farce with no economic basis, and it is clear that Donald Trump has no understanding of or interest in economics. On the global stage, the Chinese are laughing about how their cooperative culture doesn't cause them to go through the pains that Americans inflict upon themselves with their culture of selfishness. Looking at Trump's personal characteristics, what stands out to me is that his supporters would probably like to emulate his selfishness and narcissism. With respect to world history, this is a sign that the U.S. may be on the verge of a serious decline in both political and economic leadership, and that China is on the ascent and may soon be calling the shots. Given the degraded nature of Trump's personality, I'm not sure that I would object. The question is ultimately whether China's leaders represent the most eusocial aspects of mankind.

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