Editor’s column: Principles aside, we want to be winners
I recently stumbled across what I think is one of the smartest assessments of Donald Trump’s support that I’ve seen.
By British writer Emma Lindsay, “Trump’s Supporters Aren’t Stupid” argues persuasively that he appeals to people’s desire to have their dignity restored.
“We are depriving the white working classes of their means to give. As we export manufacturing jobs internationally and as we streamline labor with technology, we start moving people to the sidelines. It’s not just that they have less money, it’s that their identity as providers is being threatened,” Lindsay wrote.
I also think that many Trump supporters, including a couple of my Facebook friends, are able to overlook the fomenting of violence and racism in the same way I have been able to overlook the sins of the Nebraska football program.
That might seem like an odd comparison, but Trump is striking a chord when he says we don’t win anymore.
It’s both a misread of history and a gross oversimplification, but things are unquestionably harder in the world today than they were after World War II, when the United States was the only stable economic power and global politics was essentially binary.
America today is not the land of infinite plenty it once seemed to be — growth is harder, resources are scarcer, the world is more confusing, dangerous and competitive. That’s not because we have failed; it’s because of economic, political and religious forces beyond our control and a raft of unintended consequences.
For example, FDR realized the importance of oil after World War II and cozied up to the Saudis, beginning decades of support that gave the Saudi royal family military protection to pursue wealth and build a repressive regime.
To retain power and keep the peace at home, the House of Saud bought off the Wahabi clerics, whose cancerous but well-financed medieval fundamentalism has spawned the world’s worst terrorist groups.
At the same time, what once were backwater economies in India, China and elsewhere have become powerful engines that gladly suck up the consumer spending that makes up a hugely important portion of the U.S. economy.
Trade agreements have sought to recognize the reality of the global economy but have cost Americans longstanding middle-class jobs as businesses seek cheaper production.
So people who have been pushed to the side (or fear that they will be) want to win and jump on the Trump team.
Back to Nebraska football.
In the way I was willing to shrug off famed Husker Coach Tom Osborne hiding a star defensive back’s gun in his desk rather than giving it to the DA after a shooting incident (which sounds a lot obstruction of justice), Trump supporters generally are able to look past incidents at his rallies and say it’s just theatrics. Or something.
For those who don’t follow college football, after more than 20 years of leading good teams that fell short of the national championship, Osborne’s Huskers went 60-3 from 1993-97 and won three national titles.
We Nebraskans didn’t get sick of winning. I’m not sure at what point that happens.
In that last sentence lies my point: “We” were winning. Our step had more bounce, and all the ridicule about Nebraska’s blandness bounced off. We were part of something bigger than ourselves, and it felt really good.
Trump’s rhetoric carries that promise.
After erosion of the Huskers’ success under two coaches who tried to follow Osborne’s legacy, the school brought Osborne back as athletic director.
He hired Bo Pelini to Make Nebraska Great Again. Over the next seven years, as the team became increasingly ordinary, Pelini’s juvenile sideline tantrums led to a sharp division in the fan base. I was among those who became mortified by the many TV shots of Bo acting pretty much like a madman.
I imagine that many “Never Trump” Republicans cringed in much the same way at The Donald’s name-calling, policy flip-flops and violent rallies.
Looking inside myself, though, I’m pretty sure that had Pelini won some titles, as embarrassing as he was to my home state and alma mater, I would have been OK with him.
The big problem wasn’t that he was a jerk. It’s that he was a jerk who also didn’t win big games.
And now that Trump has won the nomination, Republicans are falling in line.
From a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week:
“Eight in 10 Republican voters say their leaders should support Mr. Trump even if they disagree with him on important issues. And unfavorable views toward Mr. Trump among Republican voters have plummeted 15 percentage points since last month; 21 percent now express an unfavorable view of him, down from 36 percent in April.”
The desire to win (not discounting widespread, bipartisan disdain for Hillary Clinton) can override principles.
The campaign is like spring football: Everybody is undefeated, and we hope that the star recruit who got all that publicity really is the answer, despite the six interceptions in the April scrimmage.
Trump hasn’t actually damaged the economy or our standing in the world yet.
Problem is, this isn’t just some game.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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