The question of how would I explain the Donald Trump Presidency to a British person appeared in my social media feed.

As it happens, I actually did try to explain the Trump phenomenon, except in 2016. I was with my wife on a trip to Dublin. I was sitting on a bench in Saint Stephens’ Green, reading a copy of the Irish Times. Apparently, this is a customary invitation for someone to sit down and start a conversation on the state of things. Evidently, my manner made me out an obvious Yank. Charmingly, a fine British gentleman asked me to explain my nation’s thinking.

With two and a half years of perspective, this would be my explanation today:

I’d say that the “status quo” school of American politicians are incompetent and self-serving. They make lots of mistakes, for which there are no consequences (for them). If I mucked up my job that badly, I’d pay, somehow, some way, like anybody else would. The Brit would nod knowingly (Brexit).

I’d say: the system the politicians preside over is captured by insiders. The system is extremely non-adaptive: we have been in various wars for three quarters of a generation, costing 8 trillion dollars, and our war-making policies are not only ineffectual, they are completely incoherent (invade for Democracy, but support autocratic Monarchy). We seem unable to stop.

I’d say: The financial system is also captured by insiders (I was specifically asked about the finance system). The system was brought down by the nexus of politician/lobbyist/banker (housing loans). Insiders took very little by way of losses, they even, incredibly, handed out generous bonuses after the bailouts. The bailed-out institutions were all generous “contributors” to the politicians that regulate them (if the Englishman asked me how to distinguish that from pure bribery, I’d be at a complete loss). The financial industry collects the winnings when things go right, and shovels the pile of toxic dookie-debt over to the taxpayer when things go wrong, and calls that ‘capitalism.’ The inherently corrupt nexus was extended, the “too big to fail” institutions are bigger than ever before (because who would risk doing business with an “outsider?”). All of the government’s experts on the financial industry were from the revolving door of insider/lobbyist/banker.

I’d say: though the political status quo has created a huge mess, everything we do to fix it seems to just make the mess worse and worse. Trump’s rise was a symptom of that problem. Electing him seems to, also, have made things worse. If I spoke to him of political decorum and dignity he’d laugh me out of the park (Boris Johnson, the UK’s Tweedledum to Trump’s Tweedldee).

I’d say: it’s not as if any of this came like a bolt from the blue. The works of our political class have been reviled for more than a generation. Political institutions are about the most hated in the nation, yet somehow their incumbency is 80–90%. Something is structurally wrong. The Englishman would nod knowingly.

He’d reply: I know just what you mean. We built an EU with a commonly held credit card, but individual nations are responsible for paying it. Our experts built a system so unstable that a nation representing 2% of the whole (Greece) can threaten to bring everyone down (more than once!). It was a terrible scheme, popular in none of the countries living under it, but our attempts to fix it only seem to make things worse (Brexit). Once in the EU, there seems no safe way to go back (“a strong argument for not going in,” the paramedic in me would interject).

He’d say: All across the EU, economic growth is close to moribund. Politicians mouth promises of a better economy which never bear fruit, and we are losing faith, because none of the thousands of politicians who have come and gone ever promised a dead economy. Italy has not had any growth, at all, in a decade. They also turned to outsiders to fix things (who have done no worse than the experts). Actual clowns, in Italy’s case.

He’d say: all of our political institutions too tightly control the very narrow set of choices and latitude we are allowed to fix things, so it’s hard to reach inside the system to make changes. Politicians don’t have incentive to make changes because when it all goes to rot, it doesn’t effect them.

I’d say that the pinched options are not a symptom, but the disease itself : what would happen, in medicine say, if a doctor had to get permission for a new approach from two hundred politicians a hundred miles away? I’d say we need a process of incremental, non-violent, evolutionarily stable adaptation, without overloading him by calling it “libertarianism” (because then he’d leave, saying: “nutter, wants heroin sold in convenience stores”).

By then we’d be at the bar, in our cups, everyone singing the three centuries old song of the Anglophones: “Up the Enlightenment! Down the Rulers! Raise a glass to freedom!”

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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