What Happened?

I used to write about politics but gave it up because wine and food are a lot more enjoyable. But today I make an exception because of the cataclysmic  events of last night.

There will be lots of analysis in the coming days about the relative importance of race, gender, culture and economics in explaining Trump’s victory. Suffice it to say that they are all inter-related because all complex social events have multiple causes. It’s all of the above.

But what happened last night—less educated, rural and exurban voters inviting fascism to our shores—is part of a larger historical context that must be understood if we are to make sense of it. Here are two facts that have been widely known for a long time that go a long way toward explaining the electoral results:

1. In a modern information-driven society, the uneducated are left behind.

2. In a global market small towns, small cities and rural areas have little to offer that would allow them to grow. The decline of local farm economies and, later, the loss of manufacturing has destroyed small-town America.

We have tried to address these problems.

In response to (1) our answer has been to educate more people. But that is enormously expensive, difficult, and after a point impossible. Education is a merit-based activity that depends on students having natural ability, proper motivations, and background. In the absence of those enabling conditions only so much can be done without a massive investment which we, as a society, have failed to make. And even with that investment many people will fall behind. By definition, half the population will be below average and less able to compete.

In response to (2) we have offered the service economy. But small communities lack the population base to grow as a service economy especially when people are leaving rather than coming. It takes a critical mass of diverse service producers and consumers to create a service economy. That is best accomplished by large cities not small towns.

Our solutions to these two problems have been grossly inadequate in part because there may not be a solution. I certainly don’t have have one ready to hand.

When you combine the resentments built up by our failure to address these issues with the racism, sexism and loose connection to facts that seem endemic in human history and you get a President Trump.


  1. It takes decades for education to have an effect, but we have to start somewhere. Like our infrastructure, this most vital social underpinning has been left to rot. So don’t dismiss it as a necessary solution. We have a lot of catching up to do.

  2. I think your summary is spot on, and I believe most Americans have an intuitive sense of this as well. What is shocking is the magnificently gross miscalculation of the root cause and solution.

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