First came the offense against Mexicans, who were called rapists and drug traffickers. This deliberate insensitivity led to questions regarding his rationality. What would be businessman Donald Trump’s reason for attacking Latinos in the United States, a market of 55 million consumers, which in turn extends to another 600 million in Latin America? The problem of xenophobia is not only morally reprehensible, but it also has an impact on sales. NBC, Univision and Televisa know this, as well as the many other companies that parted ways with Trump.
Then came the attack on Republican senator and war hero John McCain, nothing short of Trump criticizing a 20th century and 21st century hero … for being captured in Vietnam! Now, his uncontrollable and excessive verbiage has betrayed him; his need for media attention has played a dirty trick on him. Now, in such a tasteless manner, the Donald’s presidential race could stop here.
Yet Trump remains at the top of the polls, creating a problem for the Republican Party. The thing is that Trump is guaranteed to lose in November 2016. This is the simple arithmetic probability of chasing away the Latino vote with other minorities following suit, through simple transitive reasoning. We know that xenophobia rarely helps win elections, but rather loses elections in the United States.
However, the Republican base is supporting a candidate who cannot win. How do you explain such irrationality? In a number of ways, starting with the combination of several individual rationalities, including that of Mr. Trump, resulting in the creation of one gigantic, collective irrationality. This is not an unusual occurrence, according to microeconomics, and also happens, for example, in inflationary and over-indebtedness processes. Protecting assets in those contexts causes individual agents to dollarize, spend monetary resources quickly, leak capital and expedite bank withdrawals. All of which blows the things that you want to avoid out of proportion — inflation, devaluation and weakening of the banking system — with the consequent drop in output.
The analogy can be useful, not for protecting assets, but districts. This is similar to what happened to Trump and the Republican Party, given a political system whose fundamental unit is the previously reconfigured or gerrymandered district. This reconfiguration, with the objective to secure elections as well as the House of Representatives’ structure, has produced districts that are homogeneous in ethnic, cultural, economic, normative and even religious terms.
These are overwhelmingly rural districts, the majority of which are incapable of adapting to technological changes and economic restructuring in a country where agriculture has long ceased to be competitive. These voters are white, conservative, xenophobic and impoverished. They firmly believe that brown-skinned Catholic immigrants who speak only Spanish are the reason for their impoverishment. At all times and in all places, they do not recognize that immigration generates more wealth than what is consumed. They are convinced of the contrary: that those same immigrants have come to unlawfully take their sources of income. In these districts, exacerbating and exaggerating such dogma is rational; it is a necessary condition for winning an election. Members of Congress from these areas reproduce this message and, with the same message in Washington, they are keeping their seats in Congress warm. This is how they won with the vast majority last November, in a country where the seat retention rate in the House of Representatives is higher than 95 percent, similar to Cuba and China.
Trump is speaking to that social base. He is addressing the followers of ultraconservative daily radio programs, country music, Christian rock and the archconservative channel, Fox. This is his audience. This is the resentment felt in the 1930s Cambalache* tango but set in the southern United States, not southern Argentina; a resentment that places the “Bible” next to a “pickup” and not a “boiler,” and also hates this world that is and always will be “a filthy place.” This social base longs for a past that will not return, and puts the blame on immigrants and the politicians in Washington, protecting them by voting for immigration reform, as McCain himself did. Trump knows the electoral arithmetic; he knows that he will not win the election in November 2016, but he also knows, as we all do, that no Republican will, because the country is becoming less and less white, more and more diverse, and increasingly immigrant. This is the collision of the districts’ individual rationalities sabotaging the rationality of winning the elections, which involves clumping all of those heterogeneous groups together, as is done in a presidential election. Trump is only the sign of a perverse structure of incentives, which rewards individual rational logic that, in turn, produces suboptimal results.
Politics has become an economic system based on income extraction, with the Republican Party being hostage to its own institutional design. The stronger its control over the House of Representatives, the further it will be from the White House. The more dependent it becomes on districts, the less capable it will be of gaining a national platform, incorporating and including identities, and reaching a middle ground in order to be able to represent an increasingly diverse society in all senses. For Trump, representation is democracy’s business, just as room sales are for the hotel industry. A tourist never returns to a hotel where he or she was treated with hostility, unless the hotel changes hands.
Trump knows that through his nomination, he will now be able to take part in the hostage game, at least for a while, until a night in November when he will have to concede. Meanwhile, leading the polls so far makes an additional implicit threat possible: abandoning the Republicans, if they do not support him, to run as an independent. This would be an early death certificate for the 2016 elections, a replica of American businessman Ross Perot in 1992, with a party that is, however, much more divided than that of 1992. Trump would hand over the election to a Clinton at the expense of a Bush, just like Perot.
The next election will be, more than ever, an immigrant election. Latinos, the mirror of all immigrant communities that observe and infer transitively, feel that the Republicans treat them like enemies throughout the base and throughout the districts, where xenophobia affects their daily lives. They would never knowingly distinguish themselves by voting for a Republican candidate as president, despite the fact they are named Rubio and Cruz, or even a Bush with a Mexican wife. Out of all of them, Trump seems to be the only one who has come to terms with this.
*Editor’s Note: The “Calambache” is an Argentine tango written in 1934 by poet Enrique Santos Discépolo decrying the moral, social and political corruption of the 20th century. The “Calambache” was banned under the 1943 Argentine military dictatorship and under subsequent dictatorships in the country. The word “calambache” translates to “bazaar” or “junkshop” in English.