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Moral Origins of Donald Trump’s Improbable Rise to Power

Armstrong Williams | 9/14/2016, 9 a.m.
As if to compound the insult to American power represented by the world’s vociferous rejection of the Bush doctrine, the ...

As if to compound the insult to American power represented by the world’s vociferous rejection of the Bush doctrine, the U.S. found itself in 2008 facing the biggest economic disaster since the great recession. The collapse was so stark, so sudden, and so unavoidable that several of America’s largest and most venerable financial institutions collapsed overnight. The recession in America led to a global recession, as liquidity dried up, debts got called in, and entire nations went bankrupt.

This blow to Americans’ confidence would provide fertile ground for doubt, resentment and rebellion. It quickly became apparent that the economic status quo that existed before the Iraq War and the Great Recession was giving way to a ‘new normal.’ The country limped along in this new normal; American businesses experienced very slow economic growth amidst massive economic dislocation. The Federal Reserve used every trick at its disposal to ward off total catastrophe. It was successful in its aim, although the resulting ‘Franken-economy’ it created began to resemble a monster that moved and walked, but was somehow strangely also dead.

To wit: even though employment ‘recovered,’ labor force participation dropped to a thirty year low. People came back to jobs that paid less, offered fewer benefits and demanded more of their labor. American workers were hailed by economists for their increasing productivity, although, to most workers, it just seemed like a pay cut. Never had industrial performance and the state of the labor market seemed less congruent; and this strained an unspoken assumption about the trickle-down benefits of capitalism.

The twin monsters of insulted national pride and injured economic prospects began to foment a visceral, growing resentment to the economic and political establishment that first found expression in the Tea Party (on the political right) and the Occupy Wall Street movement (on the political left). Both movements were essentially defeated – the former was co-opted by the Republican Party, and the latter was crushed by the police (at the bidding of ‘liberal’ elected officials).

The pressing unanswered question of why Wall Street got bailed out while Main Street floundered was never successfully answered either by a Republican Congress or a Democratic White House. The midterm elections of 2010 promised to bring about major changes as a Tea Party insurgency came to power in Congress. However, the insurgency did not prove strong enough to enact its agenda – slashing government debt and spending on entitlements, and reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses. Not able to advance its’ own agenda, The Republican Congress settled for a role as a spoiler caucus, mainly concerned with preventing the Obama Administration from putting its’ own proposals forward. Over the past six years, the Congress has done practically nothing in the way of helping the American people out of the mess they are in. The lack of commitment to a national project for reconstruction seemed strange in a country that had just demanded such brave sacrifice from its warriors.

The political impasse stymied American progress, and extended the economic recession beyond its reasonable shelf life. Amidst the doldrums of economic and political stagnation, Donald Trump’s bold rhetoric, a stark departure from the normal fare, seemed to be a strong wind. It didn’t really matter whether that wind was blowing America forwards or backwards — towards a safe harbor or further out to sea. At least, for the first time in six years, there seemed to be some movement. When one is stuck in the same place for what seems like an eternity, even going backwards can seem like making progress.