Promises, Promises

CNN has a poignant piece of reportage on people in Michigan who voted for Donald Trump in the foredoomed hope that he would make the good times roll again with an abundance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. They are good, decent folks who work hard (whenever they have the opportunity) and don’t knowingly harm others. They’ve arranged their lives to minimize their need for system 2 analytical thinking, just like most people do, and had no independent basis for evaluating the realism of Mr. Trump’s promises. Now they await their reward, which in due course they will get good and hard, just as most of the other Trump voters will.

Of course Mr. Trump had no clear and definite idea of how he was going to summon forth the jobs and other wonderful things he promised. He will discover that his various handlers and courtiers have no better ideas than he. How long the faith of the faithful will persist remains to be seen, but it is sure that massive and intensive searches by very smart people have failed to reveal any plausible means to bring back large numbers of $30/hr manufacturing jobs, or of creating a healthcare payments system that is at once better and cheaper than ACA, or for delivering on any of the other myriad glittering promises that helped bring Mr. Trump to office (along with darker forces).

In short Mr. Trump made a lot of promises he didn’t know how to keep. For the most part, it seems to me, he made them sincerely. Although he is by no means unintelligent his knowledge is exceptionally limited. The “genuine” quality that many ordinary people feel is strong in him reflects the fact that he, like them, avoids critical analytical thinking. Not only avoids it but despises it and those who engage in it. And simply because he knows so little, how little he knows does not trouble him; it is the natural order of things in his universe. After all he has no idea how to construct a large building and yet he has regularly called them into existence. And if some of these projects involved a lot of unforeseen trouble, surely it was no fault of his. So why shouldn’t he equally be able to bring back plentiful good jobs, create a great healthcare system, and generally make America great again?

Of course Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton (whom he despises for their wonkishness among other qualities) are very distinctly given to analytical system 2 thought. Yet they too made promises they didn’t know how to keep, promises no one knew how to keep. And while their promises were less sweeping, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama may very possibly have made them with less sincerity than Mr. Trump did. We even heard from people who saw real merit in Mr. Trump’s greater sincerity, notwithstanding their appreciation of the hollowness of his promises.

Unfulfillable commitments have become a prominent fixture of our political discourse. (Was it always thus? I’m not sure, but it does seem to go back a long way.) It has made the public cynical about political cynicism. Many long for a sense of genuineness in their politicians, even if it means that the candidate is a simpleton. His actor’s polished ability to project a sense of sincerity was perhaps Ronald Reagan’s greatest asset—greater than anything owing to analytical system 2 thought, surely.

And perhaps it’s all the public really requires. I hear constantly from people who repine for the wonderful leadership of Reagan and refer to the terrific economic achievements of the Reagan Era, referring to golden trends entirely at variance with what the economic statistics. Perhaps Mr. Trump’s genuineness (f such it is) will be enough to divert attention from his all-but certain  failures to deliver the cornucopia of good jobs, better and cheaper health care, and other promised benefits.