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Another explanation for the rise of Trump

This week, one of the major candidates for President of the United States asked supporters at his rally to raise their hands and swear an oath of support that has been variously criticized, mocked, and shamed as Nazi-esque. The swearing to vote for Trump isn't itself so Hitler-like...but you can see where the jump to conclusions came from given the giant border wall to keep Mexicans out, the fear of foreigners, Muslims, and the rallying behind whiteness as black protesters get beaten at Trump campaign events.

As efforts to stop Trump are variously underway (and may or may not work within the GOP), the news this week has been full of analysis trying to figure out how America got here. Explanations have ranged from racist backlash against the first black President to years of Republican vitriol to class struggles by less-educated whites watching the economy and culture head away from them. (For the record, to win in November Trump would have to have levels of non-college educated whites that are near impossible to turn out.)

I don't think any of these explanations is perfect or wrong. There's a lot at work creating Trump-ism in the US just as right-wing ultra-nationalists are on the rise across Europe. Demographics, for one. Backlash against the growing globalized, international, multicultural world is to be expected as jobs are shipped overseas, wages have stagnated, and a few large corporations seem to be taking off with the cash.

In case you didn't notice, that last string of reasoning isn't unique to Trump voters. There's a fairly vocal streak of Democrats who would agree that the game is rigged against middle and working class Americans. And there are more than a few white, working class voters who would normally vote Dem--I say "normally" but if you're being lured by Trump you're probably not such a hardcore modern Democrat and more in the vein of the old coal country or Southern Democrats--but find themselves not liking Bernie or Hillary and being pulled in Trump's direction of quasi-fascism.

The heart of what I want to explore about Trump, however, is something I actually see in Bernie Sanders supporters, too. The angry rhetoric against Hillary, the angry rhetoric against Wall St., the general idea that money in politics and the parties themselves are rigged to prevent their populism from shining.

It's a pretty nasty populism. And I don't mean just lower class, rowdy democracy like Andrew Jackson's followers breaking things at a White House party. In the case of Sanders, his followers are a fairly educated, white progressive populist school. No, my critique of Trump...and Sanders for that matter...is that it comes from a place where voters see the world in absolutes. Trump sees the world not through fiscal or moral absolutes as previous conservatives have. Nor does he see it through the eyes of race--even if race is a part of it. This isn't true, pure racism. It's more the child of post-Civil Rights whites who didn't "mind" blacks so much as they just wanted to be removed from all that. The messy, mixed, cosmopolitan world of modernity is too much for the Trump voter. Muslims and blacks and Mexicans and women and Obama...it's like Archie Bunker running for the White House.

For the Democrats, we've managed much better to hold back the absolutists in our own party. Sanders ended up being a much bigger threat than first thought, but he's been beaten. Progressive absolutists have their own bogeymen. It's banks and investors. It's party politics. It's the inability of Sanders to come up with less than ideal, pragmatic policy about how he'd handle the Republican House that any Democrat is likely to inherit.

Hillary is winning for a variety of reasons, but the biggest may be that there is a strong middle who rejects the politics of "take no prisoner." Whether that comes from religious bigots on the right or annoyed progressives who seem to want to reject anything short of their dream world. There's a strong current in American culture right now to simply lob criticism from afar without the corresponding duty or follow-through to try to get things done. It's resulted in a stalemate of government, but worse it's left people cynical, bitter, refusing to vote and refusing to participate in the actual give and take required for self-governance.

Deep down, one of the reasons I volunteered to be a local transportation commissioner was this apathy. Everybody complains, but nobody wants to show up to the meetings and sort through 100 pages of proposals, research, recommendations, listen to public testimony, and make a difficult decision that is going to piss somebody off. Americans would rather sit at home and yell at the television about how angry and offended they are than go down to the civic meeting hall and be on the school board, the library board, the park board, speak at a public meeting, etc.. The internet comment sections aren't enough people. Democracy requires your participation.

My complaint about both Trump voters and Sanders voters is that the Founding Fathers didn't set up our government to cater to your unique set of demands. Our representative democracy requires that our leaders do the messy work of trying to compromise, please a majority while respecting a minority, and find some level of tolerance for those unlike their neighbor.

Clinton has been using Trump's ridiculous "Make America Great Again" slogan against him that "America is already great." It doesn't need Trump's meddling. Which is true. But more than that, the reason America's not "great," if it's not, is that Trump supporters need to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching that maybe they're being rude, small-minded, and petty. A little less bitter complaint, a little more cooperation and pitching in.

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