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Arthur C. Brooks

I bet Donald Trump reads my blog

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Donald Trump probably reads my blog first thing every day.

Until today, I figured Donald Trump never heard of me. He’s never mentioned me  in his tweet storms. He’s never called me an idiot or a liar during a debate. He’s never pointed to one of my many egregious typos and tweeted:

“@whennessy left out the word ‘for’. Confused everyone. Worst blogger in politics. Just sad.”

(The guy has 2.6 6.35 million followers. I’ll send him a small donation if he tweet-storms me. His twitterhood is like a small country!)

In the past two years, I’ve talked about two broad themes.

In 2014, my big theme was the New Political Dichotomy. In 2015, my big theme was leading with the people we want to help (inspired by Arthur C. Brooks of American Enterprise Institute).

I never thought about Donald Trump when I ruminated on those themes. Donald Trump seems like the antithesis of both. Until you read quotes from interviews with people who voted for him in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Then it smacks you in the head. His voters see America’s greatest threat as the idiot political elites who don’t listen and don’t speak to them.

So it turns out I was 100 percent, totally right in both of those themes. More right than even I thought I was.

Let me do a quick summary of those two years in blogging for you.

2014: The New Political Dichotomy

The old battle lines of American politics have been erased. The battle is no longer Left vs. Right, Liberal (or Progressive) vs. Conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, Statism vs. Liberty, or any other old battle. They’re all over.

The new dichotomy is Elites (or Establishment) vs. Plebes (or the Rest of Us).

In this new dichotomy, winners will be those who can let go of the bitterness from the old dichotomy. We might have to work with old enemies because there’s a greater common threat. For example, in the old dichotomy, we would simply trash whatever came from the mouths of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In the new dichotomy, we recognize that Sanders and Warren are 100 percent right about many of the problems they identify, but the solutions they offer are horrible. Instead of pretending (lying) that they’re wrong about corporations and big banks and crony capitalism, we should say “right on,” and offer the free market or liberty solution to the common problem. That’s the new dichotomy.

2015: Lead With the People You Intend to Help

This is about message more than substance, because messaging is killing conservatism and liberty. Conservatism, Constitutional integrity, and liberty are all abstract concepts. People who worry about those things respond to those words, but that’s only about 19 percent of Americans. That leaves 81 percent rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at us as we defend our dogma. On August 10 I wrote:

While the dogma must have its defenders, preaching the dogma guarantees that we remain nothing more than an irritant to the Republican establishment and a godsend to progressives.

Why? Because most people don’t care about our dogma. They care about getting through life the best they can. And it’s not their job to figure out how our orthodoxy helps them do that.

Our job is to translate our principles into broad, moral direction for our country with specific goals that will make people’s lives better. Shouting “liberty,” repeating historical chants like “give me liberty or give me death,” doesn’t improve anyone’s life, even the speaker’s.

Ted Cruz talks about abstract concepts, but Ronald Reagan talked more like Trump. Reagan was milder than Trump, but he used language the same way. Here’s an example: In Cruz’s announcement speech at Liberty University, he mentioned “conservative” or “conservatism” six times. Ronald Reagan never used the term when he announced his run in 1979. Reagan talked to regular people about their lives. We latter day conservatives chat amongst ourselves about abstract concepts,  then we wonder why 81 percent of Americans tune us out.

Donald Trump “Tells It Like It Is

More accurately, people hear Donald Trump tell it like he sees it. Even if they don’t agree, people love the fact that he’s plainspoken and blunt. As he sees it, the elites who’ve been running America are stupid, and they’re getting their asses handed to them by America’s trading partners and enemies. And ordinary, working Americans pay the price for our leaders’ stupidity. When he’s president, he’ll build a wall to keep illegals out, and he’ll make Mexico pay for it. He’ll be the toughest trade negotiator God ever created, and he’ll negotiate deals that will make American companies want to move jobs back to the U.S. of A. Millions and millions of great jobs people can be proud of. He’ll build a military so strong and so well trained and so well equipped that nobody will ever even consider messing with us ever again. And he doesn’t want people dropping dead in the streets because they couldn’t afford a doctor. Terrorists? He’ll torture their asses. You have a country or you don’t.

You can’t get tastier concrete at Ted Drewes. Not a single abstract principle in the mix. Agree or disagree with his positions or his temperament, the man speaks in words you can chew.

The reason Donald Trump has the broadest and deepest support in the 2016 race is because he speaks in concrete imagery from the perspective of the Plebes in the New Dichotomy. Trump leads with the people he wants to help. There’s nothing more concrete than a wall. There’s no one who deserves more help than someone who wants to work and can’t find a decent job.

And nothing builds loyalty like helping someone help himself.

I’m not saying Trump is a conservative. I’m not saying he’ll make a great president. And I’m not saying Trump actually believes everything he says. I really don’t know. I am saying he probably reads my blog and decided to put to the test my ideas of a new dichotomy expressed in concrete terms about the people he wants to help.

And so far, the test is working, so I guess I was right. Good for me!

Too bad more candidates don’t read me.

UPDATE: David Limbaugh echoes many of my points on messaging, specifically for Ted Cruz. In Suggested Cruz Campaign Reboot: Show, Don’t Tell, Limbaugh says:

Ted Cruz has everything it takes to be an extraordinary — even historic — president and lead the nation out of its current quagmire.

He just needs to say what he’s going to do, in concrete terms, and underscore why he can be counted on more than all others to do it — because of his record, his commitment to action and his demonstrated courage in fighting establishment power brokers who will resist him.

The whole article is excellent. You should go read it.

NOTE: I removed a photoshopped version of the fake Trump tweet. It caused way too much confusion.

America Has a Job To Do

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We believe that meaningful work dignifies and enriches human lives.

[olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]Every person who wants to work should find a choice of occupations to pursue. And every occupation improves the life of the person doing the work, the people the work is done for, and the family and community in which the worker lives.[/olympus_highlight]

The more workers engaged in meaningful work, the better our country becomes.

The opposite of work is not idleness but dependency, and dependency degrades human lives.

Those undeniable truths are why we shudder when we read the latest jobs report. Here is a sample of human degradation in America today:

  • There are fewer Americans working today than any time since 1977
  • Since 2007, 1.4 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared and 1.4 million part-time, low-level service jobs have been created
  • 8,000 young people between 18 and 24 lost jobs in July, once again, while people over 55 accounted for more than 100 percent of new hires
  • 93.8 million Americans are not in the labor force, and the aging of the population has nothing to do with that number

In a sense, we should consider these numbers a blessing. They tell us we all have work to do.

The we must do in America is straightforward: we must eliminate the barriers to work. We must stop treating a job like a punishment. We must remove the risks to our country’s generous safety nets by helping those who can work find meaningful work.

The reasons people can’t find meaningful work are large, but no challenge is too big for the American people. Conservatives must accept that trite answers and the usual blame won’t solve the problem. We’ve been repeating those answers and blaming those people for years, and the problems have only grown.

The first solution–one of many–is to make low-paying jobs livable. We believe that if you work and play by the rules, our society should make sure you can support yourself and your family. When we hear ideas to double the minimum wage, we know from irrefutable research that, while some will benefit, many will lose their jobs. And those who lose their jobs will suffer from humiliation. They will lose dignity and self-esteem. Their families will suffer.

That’s why we believe a better answer is to reform the Earned Income Tax Credit. Increasing the EITC will reward work instead of punishing it. When I read about the EITC in The Conservative Heart, I remembered a time in my life when the EITC was a blessing.

When I was an E5 in the Navy with two babies under two years old, we were struggling. We could barely afford gasoline for our Dodge Omni. My wife could not work because the babies were tiny. And E5 pay in 1987 was pretty low.

When I sat down to do my taxes, which I’d put off until the end because I was afraid I’d owe the IRS money, I got a huge surprise. A blessing.

We were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Instead of a return of $30, we got a return of over $400. That money meant we could buy a cheap washer and dryer so we didn’t have to drive four miles to the laundromat. We had a bit of a cushion for the first time. It felt like we’d won the lottery.

A single person without dependents—one who’s playing by the rules—can get a maximum of $500 in the system today. That’s less than 50 dollars a month. We can do better.

If we increase the EITC for single people without dependents to $2,000 a year, there will be no need to raise the minimum wage. Therefore, employers will be able keep all their low-level worker and maybe even hire more.

Yes, this is a form transfer payment. But at least it transfers money to working people who want to get ahead.

Conservatives like to say that minimum wage workers only make the minimum wage for a short time. Then they get a raise or a new job.

That’s true. But it’s also true of the EITC. Eventually, those low-wage workers will finally rise above eligibility for the EITC. They won’t need it.

I’m sure reasonable people can find other problems with EITC. But they must offer an alternative that promotes the dignity of work. Some will say the EITC is welfare. Maybe. It sure didn’t feel like welfare to me when I was working 14 hour days in the shipyard. I felt like I’d earned it. Nothing you tell me will convince me my 1988 tax return was welfare.

America can find meaningful work for every person capable of working. The generations alive today have a moral duty to work toward that end. Let’s make the EITC the first step.

H/T Arthur C. Brooks and his wonderful new book The Conservative Heart