But what America needed was change:
The unemployment rate [is] down to 4.6 percent...; a broader measure of underemployment called the U-6 -- [which] 'includes workers who are part-time but want full-time work, and people who’ve given up looking for work but still want it' -- [is] not quite at its pre-recession level, but it has also fallen dramatically...; adjusted for inflation, median weekly earnings for wage and salary workers were at an all-time high in the third quarter...; gas prices remain low, as does overall inflation...; stocks have reached all-time highs...; [and] gross domestic product growth for the third quarter was revised upward last week, to 3.5 percent.
Scrupulous economists have long since jettisoned the once-tidy classical view that consumers are rational actors. The disciplines of "psychology, biology, and neurology are ganging up on economics to prove that, when it comes to making decisions, people are anything but rational," wrote, in 2013, the Atlantic's Derek Thompson, in "The Irrational Consumer: Why Economics Is Dead Wrong About How We Make Choices" -- or, rather, was wrong. Today, the only economists still enslaved by the academic concept of consumer rationality are Hayekian mossbacks compelled by their ideology of a free-market system operating much like Newton's conception of God's perfectly ordered, universal clockwork.
In his most telling passage, Thompson observed that "Our brains are computers, and we like to access recently opened files, even though many decisions require a deep body of information that might require some searching." Perhaps that advertised, sleek, sporty new car that promises to have libidinous members of the opposite sex flocking to your driveway is not, in your middle-aged flabbiness, really your best choice of fresh wheels; nonetheless, Madison Avenue's provocative lures may well be uppermost in the files of your recently accessing mind.
The economic irrationality of the American consumer applies, of course, to politics, too. How did so many 2016 voters manage to overlook, and demand "change" from, the underlying realities of Obama's vastly bettered economy -- its low unemployment, its higher wage earnings, its rather aggressive GDP growth? Their minds' most readily accessible file was that containing the ubiquitous humbug -- hustled by dreary Republicans' relentless propaganda machine -- of an economy verging on the apocalyptically dystopic.
Even the most cursory search of the "deep body of information" behind the countervailing truth might have persuaded all but the most partisan, anti-Obama/Clinton voters that Republican and Trumpian doomsaying was a risible mythology grounded in vintage disinformation. And yet these "independent" voters couldn't be bothered with even the searchingly cursory; they simply lapped up the regnant bugaboos of Republican flimflammery -- reinforced by office watercooler prattle that "everybody knows" the economy is sluggish and in need of redirected guidance. In that, the second phenomenon, these voters reaffirmed Alexis de Tocqueville's antebellum observation that Americans' greatest political peril was perhaps that of a herd mentality, the democratic proclivity to abandon critical thought and passively go with whatever the mob's often-boneheaded consensus happens to be.
In 2016, thanks in accompanying part to the antiquated Electoral College, it wasn't so much Donald Trump but voter irrationality that triumphed. This might be somewhat more bearable had the majority of voters chosen to so egregiously gut American political decency. A peculiar comfort might have derived from democratic majoritarianism's choice of bottomless national disgrace -- a very small comfort, true, but at least we'd know that the founders' elitist warnings of demagoguery's rancid seduction were validated; that a lazy, ill-informed body politic had freely reduced democracy to its most ignoble, fiercely cautioned-against unfolding. As it is, however, the rational voter's America has been hijacked by the immensely irrational, which accounts for sane America's unprecedented despair. It didn't ask for this.