03 October 2016

The Trump movement and what it means

Donald Trump has long said that his candidacy represents a movement, not just a conventional campaign.  The thing is, he has a point.  What began as an insurgency, dismissed as unserious by mainstream Republicans, has swept aside supposed heavyweights like Jeb Bush and John Kasich to capture the nomination and then make a frighteningly-credible play for the general election.  Yes, he'll almost certainly lose, but current polling and Electoral College projections look like the run-up to an "ordinary" Democratic win similar to 2008 or 2012, not to the blow-out one would expect after one party nominated such an outrageous and fatuous candidate.

So yes, the Trump "movement" has fallen with one hell of a splash into the calm blue waters of conventional political thinking, and we would be wise to consider its implications even after it is finally flushed away in November.  What lessons can we find here?

First, some of the rhetorical sacred cows of Republicanism -- "limited government", free trade, the free-enterprise system -- turn out not to be so sacred after all.  To the exquisite horror of mainstream Republican ideologists, Trump has gleefully cast those things aside in favor of a half-assed strongman / autarkist vision more reminiscent of Putin's Russia than of the ideas of Adam Smith or Ayn Rand.  And most rank-and-file Republicans seem OK with this.  Like us, they resent the rule of a small, wealthy elite, even if their grasp of the details of the problem is frighteningly naïve and distorted.  The real free-market ideologists have largely decamped to Gary Johnson, but there don't seem to be very many of them.

Even after Trump's defeat, it will be almost impossible to restore the free market / trade / limited government shibboleths to their position as part of the core ideology of the Republican party (assuming the party survives at all).  Everyone has seen that hardly anyone really cares about that stuff, and they won't be able to unsee it.

What viscerally attracts many of Trump's followers to him is his blunt appeal to nativist / white-nationalist fears and loathings.  Kick out Mexicans, wall off Mexico, exclude Muslims, dismiss blacks' anger about police abuses as unfounded, roll back the social and civil-rights gains of gays.  Basically, push away all the changes in the world which the most provincial and uneducated part of the population finds so threatening and confusing.  All this is totally incompatible with small government and has very little to do with free enterprise.  The appeal is cultural, not economic.  As I've always maintained, the real divides in this country are over cultural issues rather than economic ones.  Yes, Republican leaders have exploited their mass base's cultural concerns to win votes and thus advance an economic agenda, but that just reaffirms that fact that it was those cultural issues that really moved the millions.

Second, there is a specific problem out there which we need to deal with.  We all know that high-paying industrial jobs have been disappearing for decades, partly because of competition from lower-wage countries (and companies moving production overseas) and partly because of automation reducing the demand for labor.  This collapse of the economic underpinnings of the rust-belt standard of living has been followed by a cultural collapse -- while rates of drug use, crime, and other pathologies have plummeted among black and Latino youth, those rates have shot up among older, low-skilled whites.  That latter population feels ignored both by a Democratic party beholden to minorities and the educated, and by a mainstream Republican party which they can now see works mainly for Wall Street not main street.  Especially given the cultural resentments fueled by the overthrow of their traditional dominance and by the rise of minorities, gays, and a high-tech economy that doesn't need them, they've been primed for the appeal of Trump or someone like him.

This is a serious problem and it won't go away when Trump is defeated.  It needs to be addressed.  Arguments about whether that less-educated white demographic "is" or "is not" racist, or how deserving they are of sympathy relative to other groups, or who is to blame, are all pretty much irrelevant from my pragmatic standpoint.  The point is, what do we do about this?  From a strictly economic perspective it's part of the technological transition from the traditional economy based on human labor to the future model where most production is done by machines -- a transition to be eased by plans such as Basic Income.  But inculcated resentments toward minorities, cultural hostility toward rapid social change, and the persistent feeling that their place in the sun in "their" country has been unjustly usurped and must be restored, militate against accepting or even understanding the kind of help that the left, even with the best of intentions, can offer.

It's only proper that the Democratic party returned to power will prioritize meeting the concerns of its loyal constituencies -- blacks, Latinos, gays, the non-religious, etc.  But it will also need to start trying to coax the Trumpanzees out of their bubble of cultural resentment and address their problems.  They are part of our country too, and they vote, and they aren't going anywhere.

13 Comments:

Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

It's definitely a conundrum for Democrats -- addressing the mostly economic concerns of a segment of the population that votes against its own economic interests by voting Republican. You're right, though, that the needs must be addressed (whether or not Democrats get credit for addressing them).

03 October, 2016 09:10  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

IMO, at least part of the Trump 'popularity' is based on a long and carefully cultivated hatred of Clinton. How else would faithful evangelicals line up for
a thrice-divorced womanizer? How else would many military line up behind a five
time draft dodger? Those that complain of taxation line up for a billionaire who pays none? The GOP is ultimately responsible for their malignancy and too
afraid to cure it. Kafka would love this campaign.

03 October, 2016 09:48  
Blogger Frank Wilhoit said...

Trump's people are Reagan's people. They declared a war of aggression on the rest of the country in or before 1979 and it is no good making excuses for that, or for them.

03 October, 2016 12:13  
Blogger Kevin Robbins said...

It is going to be fascinating to see what becomes of the Republican Party after this. Josh Marshall has HRC at 323 electoral votes. Hope the Trump supporters don't lose their minds too violently.

03 October, 2016 14:48  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...


Excellent analysis. I'm still astounded that Drumpf has advanced as far as he has. What are we to make of our fellow Americans who continue to think this horse's ass would make a great president? (Sadly, this has affected my own family, and my own brother (who lives in Tennessee) is on the Trump bandwagon because: "Hillary is so corrupt!")

And nothing about the mountains of corruption, and misogyny, and anti-military we've heard from Trump. Our family will never be the same again!

03 October, 2016 16:19  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

We know that the Republican Party mostly worx for Wall Street, not Main Street of course, but my question to you is ... do you think that the Democrats wont work for Wall Street? ... and if so ... why are they spending so much on the Democratic Party?

03 October, 2016 16:47  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

We seem to be experiencing a similar phenomenon here in Australia right now. Earlier in the year we had our latest Federal election (something that tends to take place every three years or so here), which saw a lot of smaller right wing parties do surprisingly well. While a lot of the conservative political commentariat here saw that as a vindication of their almost religious faith in neoliberal economics, others argued that it was a sign of precisely the opposite, since while the aforementioned right wing parties' social policies tend to stink (surprise surprise), their economic policies are actually quite reasonable and sane. Many of these parties, for example, are rightly cynical of free trade agreements that only ever seem to benefit a handful of already-wealthy individuals (there's a lot of concern here over the TPP, for example), and they also deplore such things as the continued sale of publicly-owned assets to private companies (which somehow never seems to lead to the improved outcomes for consumers that advocates of privatization are always promising), the major parties' neglect of rural communities, and workplace "reforms" that seem designed only to put even more power in the hands of employers at their workers' expense.

As I may've mentioned here before, we now have our own version of the Libertarian Party, but as is the case with the US one, it doesn't seem to do very well. (We also have quite a few political parties promising "small government" now. Ironically, as is the case in the US, they tend to be the sort of conservative parties who only seem to believe in minimal government when it comes to regulating the almighty MARKET - when it comes to dictating how people can behave in their private lives, they're all for big, intrusive government.) I think people in general are just getting disillusioned with economic neoliberalism, which seems to be reflected in the way its advocates try to get the rest of us to accept it. Previously, they used to promise it'd make us all fabulously wealthy; now, however, with more and more people seeing that for the lie it is, they've started presenting it as something inevitable - something we're getting whether we like it or not (I half-expect them to start screaming, "Resistance is useless!").

04 October, 2016 01:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

W, BB: It's almost more like psychiatry than politics. The Republican base has been living in an alternate reality stoked by fake media like Fox and Limbaugh, which has been deviating more and more from real reality over time. Talking people down out of that is not going to be easy.

Frank: There's some overlap, but Reagan can't be compared with Trump in terms of sheer malignancy. Also, a lot of today's Trumpanzees weren't even old enough to be politically active in 1979. And as I said in the post, assigning blame or calling them unworthy isn't really relevant to the practical problem of what to do now.

Kevin: I still think they're primed for a civil war. The Trumpanzees will blame the NeverTrumps for not voting for their man, and the NeverTrumps will blame the Trumpanzees for nominating such a bad candidate in the first place.

Shaw: It's that alternate-reality bubble at work. I hope that eventually at least some of them can be coaxed back to the real world after the Trump fever dream breaks. Having relatives outside the bubble will probably help.

Ranch: Good point. As I explained here, I see the Democratic party as divided into two fairly distinct factions -- a centrist wing which keeps pretty cozy with Wall Street, represented by people like Obama and the Clintons, and a more radical socialist wing represented by people like Warren and Sanders. They stick together now out of fear of the Republicans, but if the Republican party collapses after Trump loses, I could see the two wings of the Democrats splitting into two separate parties, thus restoring the two-party system -- and giving the US more the same kind of choice that most other Western democracies have.

Zosimus: I hope the outcome in Australia will be the same as what I foresee here. Once the conservative-voting rank-and-file see that right-wing economics doesn't help them, the stage is set for a split between the elite and the base, which benefits the left even if the right-wing base remains "socially conservative". Once the elite starts positioning its economic shibboleths as the inexorable Borg, I think they've had it. People don't like being told they have no control over their destiny.

04 October, 2016 03:46  
Blogger Bob Harrison said...

I say do an FDR-like infrastructure program. Supply jobs at good wages and a good bit of the fire will go out of the racist culture. Virulent racism will be replaced with sullen racism and with a calming of the culture wars, that too will eventually fade. Yeah, generations. But start first with jobs.

04 October, 2016 06:47  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Yes, I remember that post you done actually, which also made sense to me ... because it looks like there are 2 parties within the Democrat Party ... take Sanders and Warren for instance ... they really hammer some progressive ideas big time ... and kind of force the more centrist to listen, I mean, they had a big influence on the platform presented ... and to be honest here ... I frankly dont know where Clinton stands, I mean, we could be wrong about her, only just looking at her history, she could possibly end up as a very progressive President for that matter ... the choice will be in her hands on what to embrace or how to mold her legacy or whatever. I ONLY take sides with progressives because of the current situation man ... in other words ... in different circumstances, if we didnt have the problems we had .... I would have no problemo siding with centrists views or even moderate Republicans (without the religious trimmings) ... I mean, I alwayz looked at Obama for instance as bipartisan ... but think he also needed to crack down more on those on the right who pressure and obstruct him, he has been more than fair to them ... he should draw the line, because they basically attack him on everything. I dont look at them being much different or showing much mercy to a President Clinton either as far as the congressional right wing, despite them acting like they want to work with her, but proving by their actions otherwise. My thing is, if I had a choice of what I would like to see more as far as mainstream politics ... is a House and Senate dominated by Democrats this time around, instead of what some corporations are hoping for that I read ... which is a Democrat President and a Republican majority House. Just my opinion, enough from me.

04 October, 2016 07:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bob: Not a bad idea -- of course that would require control of Congress to allocate the money, and raise taxes to pay for it.

Ranch: Hillary was clearly moved substantially to the left during the primaries by the need to compete with Bernie (this is a very real benefit that Bernie's campaign delivered), because that's where the votes were -- shifting to opposition to the TPP, for example. It's going to be up to the liberal elements of the party to help keep her on track once she's President.

I think she will, at least, be pretty ruthless in dealing with Republican obstructionism. I think Obama wasted a lot of time trying to be bipartisan and get them to cooperate when they had no intention of doing so. Hillary will be more inclined to play hardball from the start.

04 October, 2016 08:27  
Blogger Alessandro Machi said...

Your first point...As I've always maintained, the real divides in this country are over cultural issues rather than economic ones…end quote.

…..seems incomplete to me. Many people feel that the established citizens of this county, be they white, african american or latino, are being marginalized so funding can go to those "more in need", even if those more in need have either been in the country for a short time, or are trying to get into the country.

Your second point about the economy has a democrat derivative as well. Unions tend to support democrats, yet they put their huge pension funds into offshore investments that drain jobs in the U.S. In Los Angeles there are rather large condo/apartment compounds being proposed and built with outsider money. The result will be 2,500 dollar and upwards monthly rents. This has in turn fueled higher house prices.

Why not use California Pension money to back these investments as the overall return would be far superior to investing in MBS products in which the goal is to hope for default which creates more overall profit, faster re-liquidity, and consumers who lose their homes and become indentured debtors for the rest of their lives because of their default.

The Republicans actually have a path to the blue collar worker, they just have to some guts and get pension funds reinvesting in America rather than overseas, something the democrat party seems afraid to initiate.

04 October, 2016 21:31  
Blogger Leslie Hawes said...

Excellent observations. I concur.

05 October, 2016 09:09  

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