I hated What’s the Matter with Kansas?
It’s a book about why everyday Kansans voted for right-wingers who thrilled them with attacks on abortion rights, for example, but then screwed them with economic policies that decimated the middle class. It was wildly popular among lefties when it was published in 2004, and still comes up when the subject is values versus economic self-interest.
Thomas Frank, a liberal journalist and the book’s author, portrayed voters who have religious values and act on them as stooges, easily taken in by nefarious free-marketeers. He saw it as nothing more than a bait-and-switch for dummies: you buy Old Testament fundamentalism and everything that follows from that, but receive the new religion of unfettered global trade.
Frank refused to acknowledge even the possibility that moral values matter greatly to many voters, sometimes more than how a candidate might hurt or help their financial well-being in the long run.
Progressives are still generally terrible about addressing voters’ values. They’re like a lawmaker who makes a well-reasoned, fact-filled argument for his bill, thinks that’s sufficient to win votes, and is shocked when the measure goes down in flames. He didn’t appeal to hearts, and he didn’t bother to press the flesh and build support.
Is it really that hard to make a case for taking care of the least among us, and that kind of stuff? In a way that grabs voters?
Frank is a native Kansan who managed to write a book about his home state like a New York liberal who thinks of most of the country as “fly-over states.”
So eff you, Thomas Frank.
His book came to mind when I read in the Express-News that Donald Trump will return to San Antonio for a high-dollar fundraiser at the Grand Hyatt downtown on October 11.
I think about the wealthy donors who will show up for the event like Frank thinks of those poor Kansans. What dupes. They’ll cut checks for a candidate they know is hostile to free trade and their economic interests.
We are way past the point where anybody can reasonably say Trump is dumping on trade agreements only to appeal to the pissed-off middle class — that once he’s in the Oval Office, it’ll be business as usual. No. He intends to trash or rewrite NAFTA. Really truly.
That has to be a big concern for San Antonio and South Texas businesses. It’s certainly a threat to jobs and the regional economy.
Among U.S. metro areas, the San Antonio MSA is the 21st largest exporter, according to the International Trade Administration, an arm of the U.S. Commerce Department. Companies in the area exported $16 billion worth of goods and services in 2015. About three-quarters of those sales were made to countries covered by free-trade agreements with the United States.
San Antonio’s biggest trading partners, by a mile or two, were Canada ($5.1 billion in sales) and Mexico ($3.9 billion). You may recognize them as NAFTA countries.
So, what the hell, donors?
They’re certainly not responding to Trump’s moral outlook, which he cobbles together before talking to religious audiences, trying to remember what he said the last time. He speaks religion as convincingly as he appeals to African Americans.
Is it Trump’s other values that attract business donors? The demonization of immigrants from Mexico and Muslims? The disdain for women?
Or are they — like many of Trump’s hardcore supporters — demoralized, ground down by globalism? By years of stagnant wages and exploding health-care costs? Is death their retirement plan?
Think I’ll just put that down as a “no.”
So, what is Trump’s appeal?
Maybe it’s his commitment to cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Or maybe it’s his desire to slash regulations on environmental protection, banking and finance, and workplace protections.
As I end this post, I just want to point out how much restraint and good taste I’m showing in not saying that for these donors, economic self-interest trumps values.