Federal government

Behind Trump's Appeal? 'You're Fired!'

Compare the ruthless accountability imposed within the televised Trump world with the lack of accountability in the federal government.


Gage Skidmore/Flickr

What's behind the extraordinary appeal of Donald Trump? I've been having a tough time understanding it, myself, but I think I've finally got a theory that at least is plausible. The variety of explanations offered elsewhere suggests that I'm not the only one having that trouble.

Ben Domenech, writing at the The Federalist, sees Trump's anti-immigration sentiment as akin to European-style white identity politics: "If a large—sorry, huge—portion of the country wants existing bipartisan immigration laws to be enforced, and one party tells them 'Yes,' but means 'No,' and the other party tells them, 'No' but means 'You're a racist,' then it's only a matter of time before some disruptor is going to emerge to call them out for their game."

Maybe I have too high an opinion of the American electorate, but I just can't believe that immigration or racism alone account for more than a small fraction of the support Trump is showing in polls. It doesn't square with other public opinion data. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Americans overwhelmingly think undocumented immigrants from Mexico are mainly honest people trying to get ahead, not undesirable criminals. Gallup polls consistently show that large majorities of Americans think immigration on the whole is a good thing for America, not a bad thing. The same polls show that the total of Americans who want immigration to either increase or remain at current levels handily outnumbers those who want reduced levels of immigration.

Maybe people are unwilling to admit their anti-immigrant positions to pollsters. But then why are these same people unhesitant to tell these same pollsters about their support for Trump? Rick Santorum, who is running for president on an even more restrictionist immigration platform than Trump is, hasn't gotten any traction.

Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, attributes Trump's appeal to "his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care." The Krugman theory that the Republican primary electorate is yearning for more government involvement in health care has the virtue of being a predictive model that also explains the party's nomination in 2012 of Mitt Romney, the father of Massachusetts' RomneyCare individual mandate. Alas, however, it fails to explain why these voters support Trump rather than, say, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, who share Mr. Trump's support for higher taxes and government-controlled health care.

Other voices seek to minimize Trump's appeal by saying the polls are just measuring the name recognition of a celebrity television star, or by pointing out that Mr. Trump has a "ceiling"—more than 40 percent or 50 percent or 60 percent or 70 percent of the voters are for someone else, depending on the poll. True, but Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have high name recognition, too. And Trump's "ceiling" seems to be getting higher and higher.

My own explanation of Mr. Trump's appeal is that it stems from the two-word sentence for which he's best known. If you had to attribute a phrase to Donald Trump, what would it be? Not his nonsense about "rapists" from Mexico or "blood coming out of her wherever" about Fox News' Megyn Kelly. No, the phrase that really made Trump world famous is the one he repeatedly used to cull the field on his hit show The Apprentice: "You're fired!" In 2004 he even appliedunsuccessfully, to trademark the phrase.

Compare the ruthless accountability imposed within the televised Trump organization with the lack of accountability within the federal government. "Federal firings hit record low in 2014," was the way a headline in Federal Times put it. The publication reported that workers in the private sector were fired at nearly six times the rate of those in the federal government. Are private sector workers nearly six times more likely to be incorrigibly incompetent? No, but the private sector has fewer union and civil service protections. Because of the discipline of profits, competition, and markets, the private sector has less tolerance for poor performance.

Even CBS News—not Fox, CBSreported a story earlier this year headlined, "Red tape keeps some bad gov't employees from being fired." The account began, "In the private sector, if you're caught viewing porn on company time or intimidating a co-worker, you'd probably be fired immediately; not so if you're a federal employee."

When another successful billionaire politician tried to impose the private sector's "you're fired" ethos on government, he ran into roadblocks. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg fired a city employee caught playing solitaire in the office on a work computer, but a judge ordered another such employee in similar circumstances to be reinstated with only a reprimand.

There are upper limits to public-sector operational excellence, which is one reason less government is better. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't want the government we have to be well run.

Perhaps the support for Trump is a sign of voter optimism — idealism, warranted or otherwise, even — about the possibility of bringing private sector efficiency and accountability to government agencies. It's a more hopeful alternative to the idea that the tens of millions of American voters who support Mr. Trump favor raising taxes or rounding up Mexican-Americans. And it has the additional advantage that it might actually be good for the country.

NEXT: Kim Davis Freed, as Long as She Doesn't Interfere with Clerks Giving Out Marriage Licenses

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  1. “A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Americans overwhelmingly think undocumented immigrants from Mexico are mainly honest people trying to get ahead, not undesirable criminals. Gallup polls consistently show that large majorities of Americans think immigration on the whole is a good thing for America, not a bad thing. The same polls show that the total of Americans who want immigration to either increase or remain at current levels handily outnumbers those who want reduced levels of immigration.”

    None of which addresses the salient point. You show me an opinion poll that says Americans want illegal immigrants to be allowed to enter freely and remain indefinitely, and, well, I’ll realize they’ve all gone insane. But at least it will be relevant.

    1. You have a point. I know I’m personally getting sick of hearing everyone in the media intentionally conflate “illegal immigration” with “immigration.” Even on Reason I’m starting to see articles insinuating or outright calling anti-illegal immigration “racist.” I expect that kind of nonsense from liberals and especially from progressives, not from more fair-minded libertarians. (Though, in the spirit of accuracy, I should point out you’ll find more fair-mindedness lately in the comments sections than in the articles themselves.)

      That Domenech quote at the beginning of the article is perfect at explaining the general American feeling on illegal immigration. (The Krugman quote is inane, but of course it is.) I think the “average American” stance on illegal immigration boils down to this: “people are entering this country in violation of our laws, they’re gaming the system–including welfare and similar programs–to benefit from it without contributing as much as the rest of us are required to contribute, and that’s bullshit.” And they’re sick of weak, “compromiser” Republicans who say they’ll do something about it and never do.

      If the law isn’t going to be enforced vis-?-vis immigration and border policies, then change the damn laws. This trend where politicians–and the Obama administration is especially bad about this–ignore and fall to enforce laws they don’t like is counter to the spirit of law itself.

    2. Yep.

      There’s nothing incompatible about simultaneously believing “undocumented immigrants from Mexico are mainly honest people trying to get ahead” and insisting that they should be sent back to Mexico because they entered the U.S. illegally. One can be sympathetic to their plight while maintaining an unyielding support for the rule of law.

      Not everyone sees no difference between legal and illegal immigration. And Gallup found over one third of Americans opposed to all forms of immigration. That figure alone completely explains Trump’s current support.

      It also doesn’t hurt that Trump’s supporters believe that any and all of their economic hardships are primarily due to illegal immigration.

  2. Firing those in the way of making America great will not be easy. Forcing companies to return from Chia sounds good, but will he do it?

  3. I think this is the basis of Trump’s appeal. Too many years of government employees being unaccountable. Too many years of slanted reporting by the news media. Too many years of politicians saying something and doing something else when they get a chance. A certain segment of the populace are tired of this and Trump is playing to that segment.

    1. I recall when Reason and the Libertarians played up to such segments instead of brownnosing the machine politicians.

  4. Well this was a refreshingly optimistic post.

  5. Trump’s appeal is that he’s a disruptor. Obama’s appeal was “hope and change” which really meant “you’d better hope I change”.

    Yes, people are fed up with the Federal government on all levels with the executive and legislative branches. Trump is a fearless disruptor–someone the Democrats or Republicans can’t control.

    While many think he’ll be a lousy president, he might actually be the right person to unite the legislative branch of the Federal government. They’d at least have a common enemy which would require them to collaborate to overcome or be openly heckled by the executive branch in new an unique ways. And they’d have no way to manage the message.

    As crazy as it sounds, and it is crazy, it just might work.

    1. I too think Trump is obnoxious, loudmouthed and a jerk, and therefore infinitely preferable to all of the smarmy contenders from “both sides of the aisle” put together. If he can put a crack in the Berlin Wall Nixon erected around the looter party election process, that will be icing on the cake. I’ll still vote libertarian, but will enjoy it a lot more.

  6. i want him to win just so i can laugh at everyone else’s reactions. it’s not like there’s even the vaguest possibility of electing a non-asshole

    1. It’s Jebs turn!


  7. “Maybe people like Trump for reasons other than his views on immigration”

    Rubs eyes

    Oh, it’s still Reason magazine.

    If you ask people “Is immigration a good thing”, most of them will say yes. Because it CAN be good for those who escaped poverty and are seeking a new life. If a poll asked a more probing question like “Do you think immigrants can reduce income inequality”, the response will be more split. The public already shifts more to the center on border security and voter ID laws.

    Trump is not the first “restrictionist” candidate. That’s the point Reason missed until this article. His celebrity status and candor is a major draw, but its his “America first” populism that’s winning people’s hearts.

    It’s like what I always said – a candidate cannot win on principle alone. You need charisma and a style that can appeal to the masses. Most of the libertarian candidates (even Rand, regrettably) are whitebread and have the personality of a potato.

    1. To the GOP immigration means the importation of rabid Jesus freaks. To the Dems immigration can bring in devoutly committed communists.

  8. Like so many other GOP magazines, Reason is getting good at finding Republicans to berate Trump. But where is the article saying Trump is worse for the economy or laws than a pack of lying televangelist looters who think only of banning abortion, bombing mohammedans, raising taxes and establishing a death sentence for hemp? The DemoGOP is one single Orwellian Party dedicated to robbery, murder and coercion. ANYONE able to tie shoelaces and amass over a hundred million dollars is clearly preferable to all of the soft machine boodlers put together. The GOP and Dems both joined to bomb Vietnam, ruin the economy and aid Nixon in disenfranchising small parties by doping The Party with tax money to spend on media whores. This has gone on for over 40 years and now would be a good time for Reason to stop licking the blacking off of the GOP wing and spare a thought for the libertarian voter. If Trump can break the grip of organized crime on the District of Columbia, so much the better.

  9. I might even consider voting for the blowhard if I thought he’d take his famous “You’re Fired” and use it on dead wood bureaucrats, and indeed entire agencies in DC.

    Downsize DC!!

    1. Oh, the thought alone is enough to give me goose-pimples…

  10. The best way to understand Trump’s popularity is to ask the people he is popular with.

    So, for anyone reading this that likes Trump, why?

  11. Trump speaks from the heart and the others are script readers. He cannot have competition because no politician can duplicate his genuine personality.

  12. Obama does not know how to cut a deal, he is a ghetto guy. But Trump played in the major league world of real men. Trump understands the art of the deal without sugar coating.

  13. European immigrants are needed not low IQ Mexicans. 50 million German and East European Immigrants will give the US a greater work force. Deport 20 million Mexicans now and replace them with blacks and Europeans.

  14. Borrowing by Obama of seven trillion to defend the people is not making America safer. Border jumpers are causing nationwide drug addiction. Stopping the 30 million welfare checks of those who illegally came by boat, air, and swam, will make the streets safe again.

  15. Cucarachas are 50% of the nations prison population and cost the government billions in welfare. They are low wage scum who should be dancing the cha-cha in their own nation. Trump must get them back into the third world breeding ground.

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