How Trump hap­pened

Wide­spread anger stem­ming from the loss of trust in gov­ern­ment de­cided the new pres­i­dency of the US

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

JOSEPH E STIGLITZ

S I have trav­eled around the world in re­cent weeks, I am re­peat­edly asked two ques­tions: Is it con­ceiv­able that Don­ald Trump could win the US pres­i­dency? And how did his can­di­dacy get this far in the first place?

As for the first ques­tion, though po­lit­i­cal fore­cast­ing is even more dif­fi­cult than eco­nomic fore­cast­ing, the odds are strongly in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton. Still, the close­ness of the race (at least un­til very re­cently) has been a mys­tery: Clin­ton is one of the most qual­i­fied and well pre­pared pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates that the United States has had, while Trump is one of the least qual­i­fied and worst pre­pared. More­over, Trump’s cam­paign has sur­vived the be­hav­iour by him that would have ended a can­di­date’s chances in the past.

So why would Amer­i­cans be play­ing Rus­sian roulette (for that is what even a one-in-six chance of a Trump vic­tory means)? Those out­side the US want to know the an­swer, be­cause the out­come af­fects them, too, though they have no in­flu­ence over it.

And that brings us to the se­cond ques­tion: why did the US Repub­li­can Party nom­i­nate a can­di­date that even its lead­ers re­jected?

Ob­vi­ously, many fac­tors helped Trump beat 16 Repub­li­can pri­mary chal­lengers to get this far. Per­son­al­i­ties mat­ter, and some peo­ple do seem to warm to Trump’s re­al­ity-TV per­sona.

But sev­eral un­der­ly­ing fac­tors also ap­pear to have con­trib­uted to the close­ness of the race. For starters, many Amer­i­cans are eco­nom­i­cally worse off than they were a quar­ter-cen­tury ago. The me­dian in­come of full-time male em­ploy­ees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for those with lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion to get a full-time job that pays de­cent wages.

In­deed, real (in­fla­tion-ad­justed) wages at the bot­tom of the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it is no sur­prise that Trump finds a large, re­cep­tive au­di­ence when he says the state of the econ­omy

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