Let us at least for the moment shoo aside the absurd conspiracy theory that Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump to win the 2016 election and thus hacked into Facebook and ran anti-Hillary Clinton ads, which magically transformed her supporters into Trumpies, thereby handing him the election. Instead, let’s consider the real reason why Trump won – a reason that proves itself in election after election, and has not failed to be a reliable predictor since perhaps the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972: the enthusiasm gap. Simply put, Trump’s supporters in 2016 were far more enthusiastic about their candidate than were Clinton’s.
While Clinton’s base described her as “steady,” “experienced,” and “reliable,” the MAGA hat-wearing crowd would, as Trump himself described, stand by him loyally even if he gunned down someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. An exaggeration, for sure, but maybe not quite as far-fetched one as one would think.
In 2008, millions of Americans fell in love with Barack “Hope and Change” Obama, far more so than with his main opponent, John McCain, a crusty old war veteran who promised much of the same Republican politics of the previous eight years. And in 2012, while Obama’s star somewhat faded, it still shone brightly as compared to his lackluster opponent, “Milquetoast” Mitt Romney.
Back in 2000, George W. Bush was voted the candidate you’d most want to have a beer with, whereas his Democrat counterpart that year, Al Gore, was the Hillary prequel.
Similarly, capitalism faces this same “enthusiasm gap” problem when compared to socialism. That’s why things have changed so much in American politics in such a short period of time.
During most of Obama’s presidency, the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world blasted Obama not merely for being a “liberal,” but for being a “socialist.” Obama flatly dismissed that notion as ridiculous, and rightly so. He certainly leaned more left than right, like a John Kerry, a Ted Kennedy, or a Lyndon Johnson, but he was hardly a socialist. Fast forward to 2016, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders doubled down on the term: far from shying away from the label, he proudly embraced it.
Outside of his base, Bernie seemed to be an amusing relic to Trumpians and Republicans (note: they’re not the same thing), and a thorn in the side of Hillary supporters. But the Democratic National Committee establishmentarian hacks finally shut him down – at least for 2016. Now, he’s back, running for president for 2020, with the same socialist agenda, and he’s not alone. In fact, a new wave of socialism-touting freshmen House members have created the unthinkable: their leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now, by comparison, the moderate voice of reason.
How did things get this far (far left, to be precise)? Easy. Socialism is a romantic if largely unrealistic notion, where everyone has a large enough slice of the pie. Free tuition, free health care, and enough money on which to live, for those not only unable but also unwilling to work. Yes, “unwilling,” according to one of the neosocialists, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Who’s going to argue with that? A stuffy, corporate CEO who’ll say “I made billions, and you can too!”? Sure. And every kid playing basketball on a playground right now is going to be the next Michael Jordan.
Let’s face it: the capitalism playing field isn’t level. If you have more money to begin with, you have a chance to make more money than those who start with nothing. President Trump is a prime example. Sure, turning a million dollars into a few billion and becoming one of the world’s most recognizable individuals – even before becoming president – is an amazing feat that all but his harshest haters admire. But how many of us can turn to dad and ask: “can you spare a million bucks to get me started?” And it’s also gamed in favor of those with more of a drive for success. But who’s going to follow the “you can have it all, if you want it badly enough” dream when the alternative is: “you can have it all, even if you don’t try hard”?
Beyond the Investor’s Business Daily reader types, capitalism is considered by most others to be a necessary phenomenon about which no one gets excited – like root canal. The alternative to getting a root canal is painful and irreversible tooth decay. Yet no one tweets: “I’m having a root canal done today #SoExcited!”
Indeed, while socialism is the “form of government” of the family unit (mom and dad work; the baby doesn’t pay for its own diapers), it doesn’t work in most countries. I maintain that where it works well, capitalism would work even better. But aside from those who understand and appreciate macroeconomics, as well as those who have lived in socialist nations and high-tailed it out of there, there’s no reason not to want to roll the dice for socialism, especially since capitalists have made no compelling case to excite the masses.
To whom will Americans listen: Romney, who’ll tell them they can play in the NBA if they’re 6’11 and can hit three-pointers at will, or Cortez, who promises everyone a slot on their favorite team’s starting lineup?
Turning again to the 2016 election, another big reason Trump won is that so many Americans had grown so tired of the major party establishment duopoly, they were willing to take a chance on a reality show host who never held political office, refused to disclose his income taxes, and routinely antagonized political foes, the media, and other celebrities in undistinguished tweets. Analogously, many Americans have grown tired of a capitalist system that seems to leave them behind, and so they’re saying: “we don’t care if socialism has failed everywhere. We’ve got nothing anyway. Let us dream a little bit.”
Take note, capitalists: if you truly believe that capitalism is a fantastic system that everyone should enthusiastically embrace, you’d better start making a more convincing argument immediately, because I’ve got news for you: to this point, your message is as lethargic as Mitt’s in 2012 and Hillary’s in 2016.