Summary: With victory at the GOP convention appearing more certain every day, the Right struggles to understand the resurgence of populism, so long suppressed. Here are two essays showing how they’re doing so far — by a neocon and conservative. Both remind us that populism is a political movement distinct from conservatism, and need not ally with it (the populist-progressive alliance created the New Deal). Tomorrow’s post looks at similar analysis from the Left. The new coalitions now forming will shape US politics for a generation.
“Equal Rights for All, Special Privileges for None.”
— 1828 Slogan of Andrew Jackson’s populists. Still revolutionary. Works even better today, after slavery.
- Typical establishment denunciations of Trump: he is a “monster”.
- The GOP must reinvent itself to survive the populist revolt.
- Other posts about Trump & the new populism.
- For More Information.
(1) Typical establishment denunciations of Trump as “monster”
“Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein monster.
Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party.”
By Robert Kagan (Brookings Inst), WaPo op-ed, 25 Feb 2016.
This sad op-ed shows that people in these establishment’s institutions still believe they are taste-setters and opinion-makers for the US public, and that many listen to their discredited voices. Here Kagan sings a largely content-free song to encourage people to follow their betters. Kagan gives vivid imagery and exaggerations rather than discussion of Trump’s actual policies (lest people realize how popular many of them are).
Kagan describes himself as a “liberal interventionist“; he’s one of the architects of our disastrous “interventions” since 9/11. Of course he opposes populists and their skepticism of overseas military adventures. Does his support gain more votes for Trump on the Right than the votes it loses for Hillary on the Left?
(2) The GOP must reinvent itself to survive the populist revolt
“Folks Before Kochs”
By Reihan Salam at Slate
“To save itself, Republicans must finally put the working class ahead of the donor class.”
Excellent analysis of the GOP, among the best I’ve seen. He is an Executive Editor for National Review and co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2008). See his Wikipedia entry for more info. Excerpt:
In the years since the financial crisis, populist insurgencies have devastated mainstream parties of the center right and center left in virtually every market democracy. Barack Obama’s rhetorical gifts mask the many ways in which he is a deeply conventional political figure, a man who trusts the wisdom of technocrats rather than seeking to overturn the established order. One could argue that the Obama presidency rescued America’s upper classes from a more ferocious post-crisis backlash, at least for a time. The twin insurgencies of Trump and Sanders demonstrate that the anger is still there — that it was just waiting for the right person to conjure it up. What separates the two politicians is that Sanders is in tune with the ideological orthodoxies of the left while Trump has no regard for those of the right. This iconoclasm is one of the sources of his power.
More than anything else, Trump has demonstrated that white working-class voters have minds of their own. They will not simply line up behind the candidates selected for them by hedge-funders and industrialists during the “invisible primary.” If we define working-class voters as those without a college degree, Ronald Brownstein of the Atlantic estimates that this bloc represents 53% of Republicans, split almost evenly between those who are conservative Christians and those who are not. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2012, 53% of Republicans were part of families that earned less than $75,000 a year. These groups, which tend to overlap, are Donald Trump’s base. Ever since the Nixon era, Republicans have relied on the white working class to achieve political victories. Now, it has revolted against the GOP elite.
Why wouldn’t they be furious? The Republican failure to defend the interests of working-class voters, and to speak to their hopes and fears, has made Trump’s authoritarianism dangerously alluring. Trump recognized that elite Republicans — a group rooted in affluent coastal metropolises and dominated by members of the credentialed upper middle class, which has shielded itself from the social and economic devastation that has wreaked such havoc in less-privileged corners of the country — often fall prey to wishful thinking about the rank-and-file voters who actually elect GOP candidates. They imagine that working- and middle-class conservatives are passionately devoted to the things they care about — tax cuts and entitlement reform — when these voters are far more passionate about other issues: economic nationalism, limits on less-skilled immigration, and minimum-wage hikes.
Having recognized this chasm separating the Republican donor class from the grassroots, Trump has exploited it brilliantly. He has defended entitlement programs, and he has bashed bankers. He has defied the elite consensus on trade and immigration. He is channeling the Republican id, and in doing so he may have already dashed conservative hopes of winning the White House. Why can’t his GOP opponents convince Republican voters that they would do a far better job than Trump of defending middle-class economic interests? The answer is that they are trapped by the delusions of the donor class, and they can’t break free.
Note that even in this sound analysis Salam cannot bring himself to actually describe Trump’s policies. All he can do is denounce them as “authoritarian”, with this daft summary:
“Trump has built his campaign around the promise of an unlimited government that will solve every problem that ails America, provided it is fully under his command.”
This is the standard establishment condemnation of populists and progressives going back to William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Trump’s speeches advocate “unlimited government” in the same way as did FDR’s or Obama’s (i.e., it is a wild exaggeration). This shows an important but seldom understand fact: conservatives sometimes ally with populists, but they are different political movements.
In 1964 Goldwater started the revitalization of conservatism, bringing the South into the GOP and breaking the New Deal coalition which had ruled for three decades. Five decades later the resulting new coalitions have grown decrepit. Both Left and Right are alienated from their leaders, who advocate policies that do little for them.
The stress has accumulated for a generation. Now comes the reckoning. The Right has snapped first, with resurgence of long-suppressed populism — fracturing their alliance with conservatives.
Unfortunately probably neither populist nor progressive movements are strong enough to win by themselves. Will they ally with Left and Right, reforming the coalitions that have ruled since 1964? Or will they ally with each other?
Their alliance built the New Deal. We can do it again, this time with policies suited for the challenges of the 21st century. That requires the Right to accept the Left as other than enemies of America, and the Left to accept workers as more than ignorant proles requiring their leadership.
Or we can let the 1% continue to gain power and wealth, and accept whatever they choose to give us.
(4) Other posts about Trump & the new populism
See all posts about Trump and the New Populism, especially these…
- From March 2014: Stand by for political realignment in America!
- From August 2016: The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning.
- Next phase of the Trump revolution: rise of the new populism.
- Donald Trump leads us back to the future, to the dark days of US history.
- Good news: we begin to see that we are sliding towards fascism.
- It doesn’t matter if Trump wins. 2016 is already a revolutionary election.
- Populism carries Trump to the nomination. He’s completed 1 of 4 steps to victory.
- Trump wins because he says some sensible things which journalists can’t conceal.
(5) For More Information
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