Liberals look at Trump and populism, but see only their prejudices

Summary:  Yesterday’s post examined how the Right sees Trump and the resurgence of populism. Today’s looks at the Left. So far they largely ignore that they agree with much that Trump says. Is this based on political tactics (probably short-sighted) or class distinctions (those ignorant stupid proles refuse to follow their leaders)? Much depends on their ability to see America without such blinders. I doubt either progressives or populists can defeat the 1% alone. See the comments for more info.

Trump as Hitler
Photoshopped,; captures thinking of Left.

 

Contents

  1. Typical elitist condemnation of populists.
  2. Watch for a similar revolt on the Left.
  3. Conclusions.
  4. Other posts about the Left, Trump & populism.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1) Elitist condemnation of populists

Donald Trump Is Transforming the G.O.P. Into a Populist, Nativist Party
By good liberal journalist John Cassidy at The New Yorker, 29 February 2016

Political movements often feel threatened by other mass movements, seeing them as competitors rather than potential allies — as seen in liberals’ often contentious relationship with socialists and populists. Cassidy’s essay shows another reason for the Left’s dislike of populists: the paramount role of social class in America. Here is his summary of Trump’s appeal.

Trump has been drawing on a base of alienated white working-class and middle-class voters, seeking to remake the G.O.P. into a more populist, nativist, avowedly protectionist, and semi-isolationist party that is skeptical of immigration, free trade, and military interventionism.

As I’ve pointed out before, his claim that Washington is broken and can only be fixed by an outsider resonates with many Americans, and not just arch-conservatives. So does his demagoguery about illegal immigrants and the supposed threat that Muslims present. What is perhaps more surprising … is how many Republicans are also embracing Trump’s populist lines on ending free trade, protecting Social Security, and providing basic health care.

Evidently, many ordinary G.O.P. voters are less enthusiastic about Ayn Rand’s view of the world … A similar pattern seems to apply to social issues. Given Trump’s history of support for abortion rights and the fact that he has been married three times, you might think he would be anathema to Christian evangelicals. But Trumpism is sweeping through the Deep South, which suggests that many evangelicals are willing to look past the candidate’s “New York values.”

The rest of his essay is the usual horse-race malarkey that fascinates journalists and hides the important issues that he opens with — such as this astonishing statement…

“skeptical of … free trade, and military interventionism. … ending free trade, protecting Social Security, and providing basic health care.”

Is Cassidy describing Trump or Sanders? Trump espouses many beliefs that liberals share (he also mentions ‘support for abortion rights” but omits opposing Wall Street). Cassidy does not acknowledge this overlap (as Molly Ball does at The Atlantic) — let discuss how this creates an opportunity for alliances (the progressive-populist coalition was the foundation for the New Deal’s power). Trump is powerful if the Left leaves these issues to him.

The two points of difference are racism (the original sin of America) and nativism. Cassidy calls the latter “xenophobia” (love that psychobabble), as though opposition to mass immigration is a psychosis — and concern about its economic and social effects were illegitimate.

At a deeper level, Cassidy’s revulsion to Trump and his followers might be an expression of class difference. He does not appear to dislike their policies (he probably agrees with many of them) as with their style. So lower class. So working class. Don’t they know their place, as followers of their betters? Like Sam in Lord of the Rings, and the natives in every Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel?

Cassidy also refers to Trump’s “megalomania”. More psychobabble. Cassidy also omits to compare Trump with the current President who sold himself as “Hope and Change”, one who would personally transform American politics. What’s the difference here, other than personal style?

Left 4 Dead

(2) Watch for a similar revolt on the Left

Trump’s success shows the senescence of the Right in America, and its potential revitalization from populism. Sander’s surprisingly effective insurgency against Hillary shows a similar rot on the Left, unsuccessful because he relied on an exhausted liberalism for ideas and energy. The first step to a successful revolt is a clear articulation of the problem. For that we have…

Nothing Left
By Adolph Reed Jr. in Harpers Magazine, March 2014
“The long, slow surrender of American liberals.”

This is among the most powerful political analysis I’ve seen in years, it is too thoroughly supported and deeply reasoned to excerpt. Please read in full. It’s a call to form a new Left, revitalized by return to its long-standing precepts but with new policies and coalitions.

His conclusion…

The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left.

Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless. There are no magical interventions, shortcuts, or technical fixes. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves.

Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races.

It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.

Progress

(4) Conclusions (same as yesterday’s)

In 1964 Goldwater started the long revitalization of conservatism, breaking the New Deal coalition which had ruled for three decades. Five decades later these new coalitions have in turn 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. The Sanders’ insurgency failed because it relied on now-exhausted traditional progressive policies and coalitions. The next to try might do better.

Unfortunately probably neither populist nor progressive movements have the strength to win by themselves (the 1% has grown too powerful during the past generation). But their combination built the New Deal. We can do it again, with new 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 give us.

A political party will harness this rage? Obama had the opportunity in 2008 & failed.

Economic Populist Rage by John Darkow
Economic Populist Rage by John Darkow.

(5) Other posts about the Left, Trump & the new populism

See all posts about Trump and the New Populism, especially these…

(6)  For More Information

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For ideas about what you can do see Reforming America: steps to new politics. To understand the coming reformation of American politics I suggest starting with Thomas Frank’s books: What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), and Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016).

Whats the Matter with Kansas
Available at Amazon.
"Listen, Liberal" by Thomas Frank
Available at Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Liberals look at Trump and populism, but see only their prejudices

  1. The latest fad on the Left: Trump is Mussolini

    Bush Jr. is Hitler. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fascist. These daft comparisons trivialize the extraordinary evils of the past, desensitizing us.

  2. An example of the Left’s disinterest in Trump’s policies, preferring follow

    They went into a frenzy over this, as if everything Mussolini said was false or evil. This is an ancient adage, and a sentiment many people agree with.

    Tipu Sultan (1755-1799), the “Tiger of Mysore”:

    “It is better to live like a tiger for a day than like a jackal for a 100 years.”

    Shakespeare’s Caesar says something similar:

    “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The brave experience death only once.”

  3. Nope. Not a revolt of the ‘populists’. Nor the leftists. Nor the rightists. It’s a revolt of people in need of a change. But don’t think it’ll happen.

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