The Democratic National Convention got off to an inauspicious start with the leaked emails exposing the anti-democratic nature of the Democratic (sic) party attempts to derail Bernie Sanders’ campaign. And while First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech helped to rally the troops, day-one was further marred by a large section of Sanders’ supporters insisting on booing every time Clinton’s name was uttered.
Things are expected to settle down once the Convention moves onto to those subjects that are typically thought of as Democrat issues – immigration, health care, motherhood, gun violence, veterans, and the various character flaws in their Republican opponent. However, according to Rick Newman at Yahoo! Finance there are two words that will not be uttered at the Convention – “the economy”:
“Clinton, who will officially become the Democratic nominee for president on Tuesday, has dozens of policy proposals for building roads and bridges, raising the minimum wage, cutting middle-class taxes and hiking taxes on the wealthy. But no overarching economic theme animates Clinton’s campaign, and Americans seem unlikely to hear one during the Democrats’ prime-time fest this week.”
In this, the Clinton campaign may be falling into the same trap that UK politicians fell into over the Brexit referendum – believing in the “average citizen”. In both the UK and USA, the average citizen has been getting better off in recent years. But the average is skewed by the small number of very rich individuals at the very pinnacle of the income ladder whose obscene wealth pulls the average far away from the mean:
“Trump won another 13.3 million votes, partly because of his appeal to displaced workers who blame offshoring and globalization for declining living standards. Trump, of course, has blamed free trade for destroying jobs, a contention many economists dispute. But by conceptualizing a bogeyman, Trump has made it easier for crusaders to rally to his cause, and the rallying cry permeated Trump’s address at last week’s Republican convention, when he trashed trade deals more than half a dozen times.”
The parallels with the Brexit vote should be obvious enough – a process of global free trade that has favoured a particular section of the salaried classes whose votes have provided the electoral balance in a two party first-past-the-post system; even as the same process has crushed a large swathe of the working class. In the UK, that downtrodden population has turned to UKIP and Brexit; in the US it has turned to Trump.
The problem for Clinton is that on the economy, she is the business as usual candidate:
“Clinton does not have an economic rallying cry of her own, and her diffuse focus on so many far-flung issues may leave convention watchers with no distinct takeaway once the balloons have fallen everybody has gone home.”
If the economy was booming for everyone this might have been enough to put Clinton in the White House. But it was precisely this assumption that so badly fired upon David Cameron and the Remain Campaign in the UK. It was precisely the cognitive dissonance between people’s experience of the UK/EU economy and the official GDP and employment statistics, that allowed Michael Gove to get away with saying: “people in this country have had enough of experts”.
Trump is playing a similar game. By speaking to the real experience of millions of impoverished Americans, Trump forces Clinton onto the back foot. And while Trump’s policies may well fail, at least he is offering an alternative to an economic narrative that both parties have promoted for the best part of 35 years. It is an alternative that resonates with the large part of an American working class who are the losers in the current system. If the best Clinton can offer them is more of the same, she will lose. After all – as her husband once famously put it – “it’s the economy stupid!”