When politicians don’t listen

My column last week about the Teflon quality of Donald Trump, who seems impervious to the consequences of his bad behavior on the campaign trail, sparked a little conversation at coffee last week.

Some of the gents who join me in solving the world’s problems over a cup of joe at the Ulmer were as puzzled as I about the fact that The Donald never seems to lose support of the voters no matter how hard he tries to offend them.

But then one of the sages said something that made sense.

“People are tired of politicians not listening to them.”

That is true. Politicians, especially Washington politicians, tend to go a little deaf once they get out of the home district. A lot of other people are buzzing in their ears once they get to Washington, and that tends to drown out the voices of those back home. They listen to the members of their caucus, to their top staff and advisors, and to the army of lobbyists bearing large donations waiting in their outer offices.

Ask a senator or U.S. representative how much time each week they spend on the phone talking to potential donors to raise campaign funds. Then ask them how much time they spend each week calling constituents to ask how things are going. As I said, they get distracted.

This has become especially frustrating to voters, like the tea party, who got together, flexed their voting muscles and sent a majority of Republicans to Congress back in 2010. They had very specific ideas about what they wanted their Congressmen to do – slash spending, cut taxes, plug up the holes in our southern border, eliminate Obamacare. And they had every reason to expect that the people they sent to Congress would make a difference.

Over the years, however, conservatives in Congress have been able to accomplish almost none of that, and the tea party voters are frustrated. They blame party leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell – the establishment leaders – for being too weak, too wishy-washy to stand up to President Obama and the Democrats.

But its not exactly the establisment to blame, it is the system. Over the past 200 years, Congress has developed an intricate set of rules for how things get done. Many a newly elected firebrand has shown up in Washington, ready to change the game and get things done, only to run up against the brick wall of rules and procedures, and the veterans who know how to play the game. It takes a while for newcomers to learn how to get around and through the brick wall.

So the voters are frustrated. And this year, along comes Donald Trump, who says things the folks back home want to hear – he’ll build a wall between Mexico and America and make Mexico pay for it, and deport 11 million illegal immigrants. Right On! He’ll eliminate Obamacare and put in a system of health care that has few details, except that it will be “fantastic.” Do it, Donald! He’ll out-negotiate the Chinese, and anybody else out there, and create jobs. He’ll “Make America Great Again!” And he’ll do it right away.

That’s what the Trump supporters want to hear, and as long he keeps saying it, they’ll keep backing him.

Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at ksweeney@nujournal.com.