Elites, Immigrants, and the Economy: Why Donald Trump is Winning

Donald Trump is winning because people think he cares about their economic plight.

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog posted a provocative piece headlined, “Why Donald Trump Is Winning.” The writers lead off by claiming that “deep economic anxiety” is attracting voters to Donald Trump.

A CBS poll this week showed more than 7 in 10 Republican voters are confident in Trump’s economic decisions, well above any other Republican candidate. 

In my opinion, though Trump is unquestionably a talented business man, this confidence is not entirely justified. My understanding is that there are a lot of government deals, eminent domain, and debt behind Trump’s successes. It isn’t obvious that his experience would lead him to restore the free market in this country.

Most of the article, however, discusses how people believe that they are being hurt economically by immigration. They give several poll results that show support for Trump and anxiety about immigration go together. The polls often indicate that the non-college educated are more likely to support Trump. The post begins with this anecdotal story:

It is more than just anger at the political class or rebellion against political correctness. It reflects decades of lost jobs and falling wages for a swath of blue-collar Americans, who saw their opportunities diminish and developed a sense that someone has stolen something from them.

Rick Buchanan explains it by talking about his industry, construction, where the share of Hispanic workers has doubled over the last 15 years, to more than a quarter of all workers, according to the Labor Department.

“The Hispanics have taken over the construction industry,” Buchanan, a general contractor, said on a recent afternoon at a gathering of conservative activists near the Shenandoah Valley. “All my drywall guys are Hispanic. Plumbers, painters, framers, they’re at least half Hispanic.” For white workers, he said, “these people are taking their jobs. Literally, taking their jobs. I see it. Almost all the white guys are gone. There’s almost no black guys.”

Trump, he added, is the only candidate in the swollen Republican field willing to call out that shift and how it hurts native-born, blue-collar workers: “He is hitting a chord with not only the lower-income people – I consider myself middle class, and he’s resonating with me, too.”

Buchanan and his fellow activists blame illegal immigration for suppressing American wages, for bleeding money from taxpayers, for sapping young workers’ hope and pushing them on to welfare. It’s a perspective shared by many of Trump’s supporters, who, polls show, are drawn from a group that has taken an economic beating throughout the 21st century. Those supporters appear to be responding to Trump’s rhetoric against Mexicans, the Chinese and especially establishment Republicans, whom they blame for not doing enough to turn their fortunes around.

There are two groups in the Republican base. There are those who believe that immigrating (and emigrating) should be permitted as an economic good thing. Then there are those who see immigration as an economic hardship.

This brings up an issue that I think has been mentioned before on this blog: economic class and economic conflict. What we typically hear is that there is an economic conflict between economic classes. There may be a political conflict between them (see below) but the economic conflict is a myth. The success of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs doesn’t leave me economically worse off. It makes me better. Bill Gates’ success hurt Steve Jobs because they are in the same industry and roughly the same class.

The real economic conflict is between people in the same class. People in retail shops are competing with other retail shops that sell the same items. Labor unions are not really in a conflict with management and the owners but with other workers who don’t belong to the union and are willing to work for less.

So when middle and upper class people make decisions to not enforce immigration laws, they don’t typically hurt themselves. A middle class person from India or Africa cannot afford to sacrifice everything to sneak into this country. There is too much paperwork. But poor people have nothing to lose. They break the law and come here for the hope of economic advancement. For the poor, the rewards are much greater and the risks much more acceptable. They don’t have as much to leave behind.

So we have the basic political conflict. Whether for the sake of compassion, growing the votes, or free market ideology people are making decisions that hurt the working class. It is obviously unfair.

Donald Trump is winning because he seems willing to be the champion of such people.

Notice that none of these people care that Donald Trump is not one of them. It doesn’t matter that he is not working class. People know that a working class person is not likely to become President. (If that happens, it will be a far greater miracle than getting a woman or another racial minority into the office of President.)

They want someone who can stand up against these decision-makers who obviously don’t care about them.