Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why do the Poor Vote for the Rich? Trump, Berlusconi, and the Empire of Lies

Trump and Berlusconi: the rich voted by the poor

The results of the US elections were not so surprising for me; after all, I live in a country where politics has been dominated by a financial tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, for more than 20 years. Berlusconi and Trump share many characteristics, but the most curious one is that they are rich and that the poor vote for them. Why is that? Are the poor stupid or what?

But the poor are not stupid. It is true that they are badly misinformed by the Western media, but they also perceive that they are facing a true Empire of Lies and that they are being lied to, consistently, brazenly, and gleefully. There are plenty of studies (*) showing that people detect lies not on the basis of rational considerations, but on a much simpler test: consistency. They take into account what a person does, not so much what that person says.

In other words, if you want to help the poor and gain their trust, you have to be poor. That's why Franciscan monks wear a brown tunic, pledge to own nothing, and are forbidden even to touch money. If you want to have the vote of the poor, you don't have to arrive at such extremes, but you have to be consistent: what you are has to be in agreement with what you say. And, if you are rich, you shouldn't even try to disguise yourself as being poor. As I said, the poor are not stupid.

That was the problem of the Italian Communist Party that was supposed to represent the workers. Over the years, it came to be led by wealthy people who claimed to represent the workers, but who were not workers; they were at best well-paid bureaucrats; at worst, thieves. Eventually, the workers started voting for Berlusconi en masse and the Italian Communist Party was swept away from history. It turned into the present "Democratic Party," a mongrel that we could define as "Berlusconi 2.0".

Berlusconi was brash, silly, nasty, politically incorrect, a womanizer, and more, but he mainly said what he thought, he was not lying. People perceived that he was not the front man for someone else. Now, over 80 and mostly retired from politics, he could probably come back and win again.

It is very much the same thing for Donald Trump. You may hate what he says, but there is little doubt that he says what he thinks; he is not lying. It was exactly the opposite for Hillary Clinton, who was perceived as having much to hide, despite what she kept saying. And, in the end, it makes sense to prefer an honest son of a bitch to a smooth-sounding liar, no matter how pleasant is what she says. (**)

So, things went the way they should have. One thing that should never surprise us about the future is that it always surprises us. Will we ever learn that?

(*) If you have the time to read the book "Big Gods" by Ara Norenzayan, do so. It is an eye opener in this matter.

(**) Remarkably, it was the right-wing Berlusconi government that created the Italian solar industry. Then, the (theoretically) left-wing government of Matteo Renzi destroyed it. Renzi killed tens of thousands of jobs in the solar industry while, at the same time, maintaining that he was creating jobs. Did I say "Empire of Lies"...... ?


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)