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What can we learn from the Trump phenomena? 9/1/2015

9/1/2015, In Business Blog – No matter where you stand on Donald Trump, there is no arguing that he has taken the presidential race by storm. Pundits and casual observers alike continue to debate how high his ceiling is and offer reasons why his message is resonating with a significant number of Americans.

I have to confess, I have wondered the same thing. After his comment about not wanting to hang out with military people who were captured, I was certain he was done. I was wrong. Many of us were wrong.

Most analysts offer some version of the insight that he is “tapping into the anger many Americans are feeling.” Well, that is all well and good, but I think there are plenty of candidates seeking to tap into that same deep vein. Let’s face it, voters and taxpayers have been miffed for a while now.

I have to admit, however, there was a moment recently when I understood how his message could break through some of the clutter.

Trump was speaking at a rally in Hampton, N.H., when a NASA space technology research fellow asked where he stands on NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s. The Donald answered in a familiarly condescending tone when he said, “Sure, send people to Mars. Of course! Wonderful! Why not? But, let’s fix the roads and bridges first, yes?”

Abrasive? Yes. But you have to admit his point is hard to argue. One of the things that seems to lead to this deep well of animus toward our elected leaders, especially at the federal level, is an inability to prioritize.

Then there was a tragic accident in Philadelphia where an Amtrak train derailed, killing seven and injuring more than 200 people. Mr. Trump tweeted the next day: “Amtrak crash near Philadelphia, train derails — many hurt, some badly. Our country has horrible infrastructure problems. Pols can’t solve.”

Not shockingly, many criticized his timing and accused Trump of politicizing a tragedy. But there was clarity in his message that resonates. We all see what is happening to our infrastructure. We experience it every day. Politicians talk about it every day. But nothing changes. Empty talk about the importance of our transportation infrastructure is as common as kissing babies and handing out buttons. Real leadership on this issue has been as elusive as finding life on Mars.

Entitlement reform, national educational standards and curriculum, foreign relations, and even the national debt can be frustratingly difficult issues for deliberative people to settle upon a preferred solution or course of action.

When it comes to our infrastructure, however, the answer actually is not all that complicated. It comes down to leadership. What the reaction to Trump’s blanket statements highlights is the fact that we simply want some action, at least on obvious problems that continue to linger. Transportation infrastructure is the one area where even the most laissez-faire business people will say that government can have a tangible, positive impact on the economy.

Despite how plain this picture may be, our infrastructure continues to degrade. Commuters bounce to work or take longer detours to bypass closed bridges. Grains and manufactured items sit in ports, on highways, or in rail cars.

The answers to fixing our infrastructure may not be quite a simple as the Donald makes them out to be, but they aren’t a whole heck of a lot more complicated either.

I don’t plan on voting for Donald Trump. But the other candidates would do well to take a page from his book and communicate a clear, unambiguous path forward. Addressing our transportation infrastructure would be the perfect place to start.