Entering the Age of Trump


Alex Simarde '18, Writer

Our new President will govern a fractured nation. This article will not address the cause of this fracturing. It will not address why a businessman turned reality TV star won the hearts of the working class. It will not attempt to psychoanalyze Trump voters or young people or minorities. This article will accept the divisions its readers now play witness to. It will likely pose more questions than it answers.

In the United States, every four years brings a renewed mandate, a new individual waiting to mould a legacy.

President Trump’s mandate began with a few drops of rain. Crowds (of disputed size) gathered in front the capitol and spectators were eager to begin a new era.

President Trump began his address by setting the tone for an administration focused on immediate change. Under new leadership ”the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country.” Trump then laced his speech with imagery evocative of a post apocalyptic dystopia with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.” His tone was one of urgency, describing the state of the union as simply an “American Carnage”.

But it is wrong to deride the President’s speech as downtrodden. Though it did not reflect the bright optimism of the early Obama era, it did present a bold vision.

Trump’s vision is reminiscent of the post war era, an era in which strong union jobs at steel plants and auto plants readied the booming nation for a space race. It is a time now uplifted by the romantic sentiments of the working class.

Trump desires a rebirth of this prosperity and now the new administration turns to sculpt a future from the ashes of the past.

Trump has embraced this romanticism, this desire for some economic phoenix to rise out of the scattered tombstones. This is why Trump refers to his supporters as “forgotten men and women” duped and deceived by a globalized elite. He sees his supporters as a force united in common pain and common distrust, willing to throw all convention away and defy all methods of prediction. He sees them as a sea of grumbling discontent, whose waves now toss the great ships of post war stability.

At the heart of Trump’s message is the idea that “one by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.” The reality is America’s manufacturing problem is not one of output. In fact manufacturing output has doubled since 1984. Rather the problem Trump refers to is one of manpower. One third of all Americans had a manufacturing job in the post war era, now that number is 8.7%. The U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, yet, the nation is producing more manufactured goods than ever before, second only to China.

Thus, the issue cannot be pinned to simply globalization, it must also be pinned to automation. Much like 19th century Luddites in English textile mills, today’s workers feel usurped by machinery. But instead of destroying looms, workers of today chose a candidate willing to shatter years of free trade policy.

These are the semantics of the Trump movement. Those factors that analysts point to in order to explain a sudden rise in populist resentment.

But it almost seemed as if the populist resentment was missing here in the Bay Area. If anything, resentment alone was present, resentment towards a man who many feel is the embodiment of an older, less diverse, and detached America, a man who represents the distant land of flyover states.

Need proof? Marin County voted 77% in favor of Clinton. San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Clara Counties all voted overwhelmingly Democrat, 76%, 78% and 73% respectively. San Francisco county went almost 85% for Clinton.

The same is true for most urban centers. Urban counties with more than 1 million residents went 55% for Clinton. As county population lowered, Trump’s vote share rose.

These urban centers (the Bay Area being an ideal example) are more diverse, more globalised, and more susceptible to rapid social change. It was in these urban centers, after all, that the gay rights movement sprang up, women grew thoughts of suffrage and independence, and minorities gathered to demand equal rights. Cities are the catalysts for progress, and wherever progress is made, disdain for that progress grows, usually in the tight knit rural communities scattered about urban cores. The same communities Trump has described as ailing.

Here in the shadows of San Francisco, young people are witnessing Trump’s national course, it inspires concerned levity for some, optimism for others, and for many unwavering discontent.

“The inauguration was interesting” junior Grace Redman said with a pensive smirk, “I thought that for our first Reality TV show president, the proceedings were pretty boring. The most  interesting part of the entire spectacle was George Bush struggling valiantly with his clear poncho.”

In response, junior Alex felt that,”the inauguration was interesting and optimistic for the American people.”

These conflicts of opinion are not uncommon despite the fact that this younger generation leans to the left. Only 15% of millennials identify as conservative while 41% identify as liberal.

But this election season  37% of 18-29 year old voters chose Trump, 55% voted for Clinton, and 8% of younger voters chose a third party candidate. This younger, more diverse generation is not so estranged from the flyover states. Despite its diversity and tendency towards social liberalism, millennials have been tempered by the lasting effects of the 2008 recession. Wage growth has slowed 60%, jobs are more scarce, and many are facing the spectre of lifelong student debt.

The data tells the story, there is a home for populism in this younger generation. Recall the sudden and enduring popularity of Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism. Wherever anger and frustration lie, the seeds of populism are present, ready and willing to burst out of the earth.

The discontent was present at the Inauguration. It was heard in the screeching whispers of the “silent majority” and seen on rainbow flags and red hats. But it was also seen on the faces of this younger generation, on the faces of the children who were told the world was theirs but now nearing adulthood risk faring worse than their parent’s generation.

Trump will continue to govern a nation undergoing a realignment. As this new generation sweeps to prominence will it to rejoice in cries of populism, will it’s rhetoric grow more inflammatory or will the tempers of the time be lulled by an eventual return to the stability of a post-war world? Is this global railing against the elites a temporary blip of frustration, or a reaction to a world with blurring borders? Will the governments of tomorrow leave behind global institutions in the guise of domestic improvement? Will the divisions between urban and rural areas widen? Will the coasts grow oblivious to the states in the middle? These questions must be examined by the young administration, and it must also be the duty of young people in high schools and colleges to advocate for their deliberation. Time will answer these questions, but those answers will be defined by the actions of tomorrow.