The election is undecided as I write this. We are waiting on the key states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, I spent last night watching Borat 2 (phenomenal) and talking politics and here are three thoughts or ideas that I find interesting, and haven’t seen discussed in much detail anywhere else.
What matters more, reality or perception?
If enough Americans look at the last four years and think “this is the good stuff, I’ll have a second helping yes please”, then who are we to argue?
A slightly unpleasant next argument by democrat/Biden/liberal camps is “the thickos, racists, sexists and other losers voted for Trump”, and he is misleading and lying to them.
The counter argument “not all Trump voters are racist” leads to the response “but all racist voters did vote for him” and on it goes. Useless.
I think there’s more to it than that.
Like it or not, there are people who feel that he is “in their camp”, he’s on their side, and they haven’t felt that for a very long time.
Remember, people don’t really vote for policies. They vote for people.
If you need to be convinced of that, there are plenty of videos like this one (“Students love Trump’s tax plan when they think it’s Bernie’s”) which show people being asked about policies or quotes supposedly from the candidate they support, who are then horrified to find out it was said or proposed by someone they despise.
This is the halo effect and was first outlined by the founding fathers of behavioural economics, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
In a study called: “Halo Effects and the Attractiveness Premium in Perceptions of Political Expertise”, they discovered that factors such as height and looks were the genuinely good predictors of US election results.
But what if we take this further. What if the reality of one’s situation doesn’t matter as your perception of that situation?
It’s well known that how we filter the world around us is what matters to our happiness and view of the world, rather than reality being a pure, unadulterated input to our minds.
We filter everything, and politics is no different.
So to most people, rightly or wrongly, the fact that they feel that Trump is “their guy” is significant. It may be that he’s just giving tax cuts to his rich pals and big corporations, but take a look at this:
A larger percentage of surveyed Americans said they were better off than even 2012, when four years previous was the midst of the financial crisis – the worst economic moment in recent history! Maybe the damage hadn’t filtered through so much by 2008’s election, but this is an interesting table nonetheless.
It’s interesting because it contrasts with my own personal understanding, which is that because of central bank policy (low rates and QE), the rich have got richer thanks to their financial assets going up in price, while wages have stagnated, and that has been bad for the majority of people, in both absolute and relative terms.
But that is not what more people are saying, according to this poll.
Last year, I took a look at a study which showed that how you voted in the UK referendum on EU membership was a key factor in determining whether the economy was doing well, even when both parties were shown the exact same data.
The Brexiteers interpreted the economic data as very good, while Remainers were more likely to see it as a disaster.
So perhaps actual economic improvement doesn’t matter so much as your perception of your economic reality. This is likely to be truer in the short term than the long, if at all.
After all, it’s pretty well known that wealth is relative.
One of my favourite quotes is from Nassim Taleb, who wrote that “you get rich, you move to a nicer neighbourhood, and you become poor again”.
So what I found myself wondering is whether, as an outside observer, I should be that upset by a Trump victory, as many people I know are or would be.
It would make quite a beaten-down segment of American society a bit happier, a bit more optimistic, and a bit more valued for a while, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, as I’m not sure they’ve felt this way for quite a long time.
This leads me on to my second point.
I am worried that if Biden wins, the gloating will be overdone.
This is obviously a loose generalisation but it seems as though part of the Biden camp views Trump voters as ignorant or stupid, racist or sexist, gullible or foolish, and more.
People clearly love and choose Trump and it’s important to try and realise that, empathise, and not to dismiss it or criticise it.
You made be sad, but lots of people will be happy!
Many of the people that are voting for him are living in a dying America, a part of the world’s most prosperous country which is being left behind. Jobs are leaving, wages stagnating, their views growing outdated.
Roughly half of the country are voting for Trump. A pretty loathsome man in my opinion (PG Wodehouse would call him a “blighter” or a “blister”, no doubt), but many people disagree.
I don’t think that the democrats or international liberals ever truly engaged with that fact.
I worry that if Biden wins and everyone starts crowing, it will have a negative impact on an already polarised issue.
A key issue is the loss of faith in politicians on both sides, and moving towards restoring that requires graciousness in victory and a genuine attempt to understand why so many people are voting for the other side. Perhaps then some action will be taken to address the growing sense that the US is rotting away.
There are more powerful forces at play than just Trump here, forces which are turning the leading world power into a place of declining life expectancy and low expectations.
Anyway, my hope now is that the Democrats wake up to their own failings. Even if they win, they should realise that they have offered someone who is only marginally preferable to the someone who is probably the most despicable man to take the office in decades.
Trump is not an unknown anymore. People have had four years and have liked what they’ve seen. Is anyone asking why, beyond the “thickos and racists” explanation?
I think that Biden is pretty uninspiring and all he offers is a continuation of the regime which led people to vote for Trump in 2016.
Now the Dems will have to offer something new. Something fresh. Something younger, probably, as well as more interesting and more authentic.
Or Bernie Sanders, who wouldn’t be considered particularly far left here in the UK (although he did genuinely go in his honeymoon to the Soviet Union), and generally comes across as sincere, authentic and will intentioned. Who knows. I don’t even know who’s won this one yet, don’t forget!
Finally, I’d like to say best of bloody luck to whoever wins.
There are two charts which would make me want to lose if I were running, quite frankly:
The virus out of control and at all-time highs…
Source: Remi Tetot on Twitter
And… markets teetering.
And add to that a suspension of belief in democracy which will inevitably follow for the next few months or perhaps even the full term of the president.
The virus will continue to ravage the US until a vaccine is found and widely distributed, and presiding over that will not be fun. Lockdowns or no, Covid-19 is going nowhere.
Also, the next four years is incredibly likely to see an incredible collapse in the financial system, in my opinion. Through deflationary bust of inflationary burn, we are reaching the end of a very long cycle, and these things don’t tend to end very well.
The point I’m veering towards is that this doesn’t matter, ultimately. At least, not nearly as much as lots of people think it does.
There are far more important forces at play, forces that have been building up over decades.
Next week, I’m going to dedicate a full week to unravelling these themes, in my attempt to contribute to the discussion of “The End Game” for the current investment regime.
To end on a slightly more light-hearted note for today though, here’s what I thought was the most crucial tweet of the night:
Source: Abstract Cricket Memes, on Facebook
All the best,
Editor, UK Uncensored