Vail Daily column: Trump’s political cake
October 22, 2016
Donald Trump makes a political cake for his white working-class base. They savor ingredients in its agenda. No matter how he slices that recipe in which the political system is allegedly rigged, it falls flat among educated, multi-cultured voters. This majority of Americans find Trump's political cake distasteful.
He's blundered badly when trying to widen voter appeal. Trump spurns college-educated voters because their schooling has taught them that different slants on life enrich it. National challenges aren't resolved as simply as the Donald suggests. Will closing U.S. borders to Mexican immigrants and Syrian refugees preserve white society and make America great (strong) again? Trump's recipe for success falls like a cake that doesn't rise.
Americans who benefit from a college education learn to sift through knotty problems that defy easy explanation. There's not one way of interpreting Shakespeare's "Hamlet." When this play is staged, differing schools of interpretation vie for readers' attention.
This multi-principled lens also helps readers see what scripture teaches. The story of Noah in Genesis 6 either raises alarm among readers or stirs accolades for this refugee's escape from watery chaos, as riptides overwhelmed civilization. Is this saga a record of hope because Noah survived or horror because life teetered on the brink of destruction? Biblical readers balance contrasting views regarding the Noah story rather than tossing in a mental trash-bin an interpretation they don't like.
Stories read from multiple perspectives aren't simple or straightforward. Collegians learn easy answers to complex problems aren't trustworthy.
When Trump declares closed borders will make America great again, his working-class base eats up this solution as the only right choice. It's reinforced by a Trump supporter's worries that America's too wimpy.
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"Enter Mr. Trump," declares David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale. He's not about to default on Trump's recipe for success — closed borders. "People say he became a star because he just happened to mention an issue that just happened to catch on. But immigration is the central issue of our time. Trump voters zeroed in because they saw what most intellectuals didn't. What is our nation and what will it be? Will America go on being America or turn into something else? That depends on who lives here — especially given our schools, which no longer condescend to teach Americanism" (The Wall Street Journal, "Trump and the Emasculated Voter," Oct. 15-16).
What does this "Americanism" look like? There's little room left for higher education or Mexican and Syrian immigrants. What this America looks like is a return to the 1950s when the White Protestant Empire ruled society.
Trump appeals to whites without college degrees. But there aren't enough male voting white guys to re-gain control of America. They haven't prevailed in a presidential election since George W. Bush's 2004 second-term win. Since then, the demographic face of the U.S. has changed. There's scant chance of making America great again by returning to the 1950s when guys working in steel mills controlled a blue-collar voting bloc that shaped America's destiny. Now the Silicon Valley, not the Steel Belt, calls the shots.
Karl Rove, Bush II's key strategist who delivered the white evangelical vote to his boss in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, concedes Trump's appeal to mostly white voters who didn't attend college is a recipe for disaster at the polls.
"It would be a grave mistake to Mr. Trump to aim each day's valuable thought at his base," concedes Rove. "His path to the Electoral College victory has become even narrower than before. The only way for him to win the White House is to pry swing voters away from Mrs. Clinton and convert undecided voters. This means … criticizing her on real issues and offering constructive change for America, not merely red meat for his base" (The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13).
Trump would benefit from learning lessons from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who reported to Congress after his Yalta Summit in 1945. There Stalin, Churchill and FDR negotiated Europe's future with Germany's surrender rapidly approaching.
Having a few months to live because of a weak heart, the president stayed seated when he addressed Congress. Roosevelt baked a political cake at Yalta, using diplomatic skill rather than threats to make his agenda work. Usually a FDR's antagonist, the New York Daily News columnist John O'Donnell wrote that the president's address to Congress "reawakened even in his grimmest political foes their honest appreciation of the undoubted personal courage and fighting heart of a man who was about to tell them what he had done in the name of the Republic … It didn't change many political ideas or give birth to personal affection which hadn't existed before. But it blew away some of the fume of personal bitterness."
Trump's incapable of combining FDR's verbal caution with a welcoming vision of where he wants to lead our nation. He rejects using Roosevelt's verbal bubble wrap that softened abrasive talk and cushioned appeals to voters still on the sidelines.
Instead, Trump gives working whites what they crave to hear, but risks making his message uninviting to many voters who are unconvinced of his leadership skills. They can't stomach Trump's flopped political cake that working-class white guys devour.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive.
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