The big news this week is that in response to the San Bernardino jihad attack and what President Obama and other members of his administration had to say about it, GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants to the U.S. until the government "figures it out." If that seems to you to be crossing over from populist anger to outright bigotry, you're right. However if you rightfully dislike Trump and that divisive statement but are okay with what President Obama has been saying for much of the last seven years, then you will never get the reason why Trump exists as a candidate in the first place.
If you're one of those people who still doesn't get it, I'm here to help. And the best way I can help you is by defining Trump and Barack Obama in economic terms. Simply put, both men and their political fortunes follow the law of supply and demand. And what each man supplies helps to create and grow the demand for the other's product.
Let's back up a bit by defining what Trump is supplying to the political market: words. Remember this is a political campaign, not an administration. And considering Trump's enduring strength in the polls, he's supplying the political market with words it wants to hear... at least for now. And that's also where President Obama comes in. Like all presidents, except maybe Calvin Coolidge, Barack Obama supplies a lot of words to the market. And his victories in 2008 and 2012, plus his enduring stance in the polls at about the 50% job approval level, prove he too is supplying words that at least a significant segment of the political market demands. Liberals and Democrats may not get Trump's appeal, but they've got nothing on the Republicans who continue to misread Barack Obama's popularity and the clear demand for what he has to say.
But President Obama and his words also create a demand for a different product. That's because he has responded to every tragedy and controversy in America for the last seven years with at least a sentence or two in his speeches that scold Americans and make us feel worse about ourselves. This happened again last week when Mr. Obama scolded us about gun control and warned us about being bigoted against Muslims even as the bodies of American victims of the jihadist attack in San Bernardino terror were still warm and un-buried. Other members of the administration added to that supply of words as Attorney General Loretta Lynch said her greatest concern at this time was potential anti-Muslim bigotry. What the White House and its supporters don't seem to understand, or don't care about at all, is the fact that this oft-repeated scenario stokes a good percentage of the public's demand for what Trump is giving them. His words are the alternative product for many who are disgusted by President Obama's words. And Trump's product fulfills a desire to hear why America should be proud, as opposed to President Obama and his administration who seem to want us to be ashamed.
Think of it like counter-marketing. Don't like McDonald's fried hamburgers? Then go to Burger King and get them flame-broiled. Don't like President Obama's finger wagging and divisive talk? Then go to Donald Trump and get some of his own brand of divisive, but wrapped-in-the-flag, "make America great again" talk.
I realize that as I write this about Mr. Obama, a big part of the American public has no idea what I'm talking about. They continue to write off any disappointment and anger at President Obama as being the result of racism or just stupidity. They don't get that his skin color is the least divisive thing about Barack Obama. They don't see Mr. Obama as scolding or attacking his own country, they see him as courageously speaking the truth to an American public that isn't as wise about the issues as they believe themselves to be. In so doing, President Obama gives his market two things it wants: a slap in the face to political conservatives and a stroking of its communal ego. And the White House will keep providing that product until the presidential job approval numbers start to really drop. I think Trump's supporters are a little more aware that what their candidate is saying is divisive, it's one of the things they like about him. But they too are unaware of the extent to which Trump's comments infuriate so many people who actually do love this country. Trump words fulfill their demand for a slap in the face to liberals in the same way President Obama's words slap conservatives in the face. It's a balanced market, but I don't think anyone is the better for it.
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As any good marketer will tell you, the initial spark of demand for any good or service needs to be perpetuated by helpful catalysts like large scale media coverage or grass roots campaigns. No one can deny the mainstream news media has handed Trump that large scale coverage from day one. And social media is helping Trump maintain a massive word of mouth/grass roots campaign. The only person who approaches that kind of attention in old and new media is President Obama himself, (sorry Hillary), and so these two men have created a massive symbiotic relationship that perpetuates their continued political relevance and existence in the way Coke and Pepsi have competed and fed off of each other for decades. The more Trump makes outrageous and divisive comments, the more President Obama will provide some of his own... and vice versa. It's looking like an endless loop.
So if you're a Republican, Democrat, or independent who wants Donald Trump to stop making divisive comments, ask President Obama to do some quieting down of his own. Unlike Trump, he's not running for office anymore and doesn't need a daily goosing in the national polls. A little more mature leadership from the White House will translate into a much more civilized 2016 campaign. After the last seven years of attack and division, this parting gift seems like the least the Obama team could offer.