For the next few weeks pundits will serve up all manner of explanations for why Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Some of these explanations will be plausible; others will be implausible. Here I point to a phenomenon that, I believe, plausibly is part of the explanation – namely, the long-running but mistaken narrative that ordinary Americans have stagnated economically since the 1970s.
This mistaken narrative is told by intellectuals on the left and on the right, but intellectuals on the left, it seems, tell it more frequently and with more gusto and conviction than do intellectuals on the right. Paul Krugman tells it. Robert Reich tells it. David Cay Johnston tells it. The folks at the Economic Policy Institute tell it.
Yet though told time and time again, it is a tale that is untrue. See, for example, many of the links available here.
But because this tale of middle-class stagnation is repeatedly told – and told as if it is a fact established beyond any reasonable doubt – perhaps ordinary Americans believe it. And perhaps this belief, although unfounded, helped to make the ears upon which fell Donald Trump’s harangues, hollers, and howls more receptive to what is rather generously called Trump’s “message.”
“Progressives” have for nearly two decades now insisted upon looking at the data through lenses that practically guaranteed that they would find what they sought – namely, evidence of economic ills visited upon ordinary Americans by all the (real and imagined) deregulation, tax cuts, roll back of government, expanding global trade, and continuing decline in labor-unionism that marked the period roughly from 1978 through at least 2001. Part of the blame for Donald Trump’s victory likely falls on “Progressives’” finding such ‘evidence’ and then trumpeting its alleged reality. Much of Trump’s message, after all, is premised on the myth of middle-class stagnation being true.