Sunday, June 19, 2016

Someday, We'll Look Back on All This and...Be Grateful??

No, seriously, I love this guy
Not to go all Slate-Pitchy on you here, but I can't help but think that it's at least possible that the success Donald Trump enjoyed in this election cycle might turn out to be something we can be somewhat grateful for. Obviously, it exposed some deep flaws in our electoral system, and demonstrated that there is a path to political power in the US for an ignorant, narcissistic demagogue. But he has no real-world chance of actually winning the general election in November, so instead it gives us a chance to examine this bullet dodged, and think about how it might reshape much of the political narrative in the US in the future.

So what beneficial trends might we see come out of the Donald Trump phenomenon? Well, first think about the media reaction to him. It's quite different than what you see from more typical Republican politicians, even liars like Paul Ryan or madmen like James Inhofe. The media has always maintained a frustrating stance of considering both sides of the public policy discussion as equally valid, even when one side has gone very badly off the rails. "Shape of the earth - both sides disagree" we smile and say. It's a real problem - they are so terrified of being accused of bias that they won't just be honest about reality. But with Trump - he's lied so blatantly, said stupid things on camera and then denied he said them, taken both sides of an argument in a single speech and been so hostile to the media that they don't feel like they owe him any of this protection, or that they might be considered biased for calling him out for these laughable positions. And it's worth noting that we've mostly only seen primary campaign coverage so far. After the conventions, the heat on Trump to speak coherently and justify his statements is going to be turned up substantially. And media outlets are going to discover that people have an appetite for honest reporting.

On top of that, Trump has ripped the scab off the Republican party's coalition problem. The party leadership has long known they have a serious demographic problem that prevents them from building a national coalition of voters that support their policies. The leadership had one agenda - the upward transfer of wealth through reduced taxes on the wealthy and reduced regulation on business and the reduction of government transfers to the poor and middle class. But the Republican voting base didn't really care about this policy agenda, and to whatever extent they did they tended to oppose it. They cared about tribal and social issues. White Christian supremacy, immigration, gay rights, gun ownership - these were the empty promises the Republican party has been making them for decades to ensure their votes. Trump simply dropped much of the economic policy plans and concentrated on the issues important to white Middle-American Christianists. Now, while 70% of the non-college white American vote isn't enough to elect a president, the party is going to have to confront a base electorate that wants Trump's policies, not Paul Ryan's. The Republican party is going to have to find a way to build a larger coalition or risk becoming irrelevant. Post Trump, the path to that coalition is unclear, and the American conservative constituency may find itself splintered.

Next, think about money in politics. Despite the massive influx of wealthy donors since the Citizens United decision, it's hard to see what the Koch and Adelson millions have bought. The Republicans have been successful at the congressional district and statehouse levels due to population distribution, gerrymandering and voter suppression. The money from the billionaires doesn't seem to have bought much. And now we have Trump, who has run a campaign based on rallies, social media and free nightly cable news coverage, easily defeated Bush and Rubio and Cruz despite their tens of millions in campaign contributions. It's true that the Clinton campaign will spend a lot of money defeating Trump, but in a sense that's just accomplishing the outcome that would happen anyway. It's beginning to become clear that money - even unlimited money - isn't a guarantor of electoral success.

Last, there is a larger ideological benefit to America - not just as a result of Trumpism, but as represented by the excesses of Trumpism. The conventional wisdom - very likely true - has been that there have been hard political limitations on the Democratic party embracing more liberal public policies. The Democrats have had to adopt an 'assume the left to keep the center' approach to the electorate. But now Trump has put away the dog whistles and exposed the core conservative voter for the racist reactionary he is. The center will accept more liberal policies before it will accept a shift to that kind of tribal identity politics. In other words, the Democrats will be able to keep their larger, broad coalition even as the Democratic leadership moves left on social and economic populist policies.

In the end, Trump represents the end of a long, frustrating political era in the US. The voters have finally stood up and forced the parties to show what they really stand for, and what they truly believe. Between Trump and Sanders, the state of American political and economic policy making is better than it has been in a long time.

1 comment:

  1. Big picture, long run, yada, cynical nihilist me can't disagree, 'though I suppose I should want to.

    Eckshully, I wasn't sure more money from Big Money would make much difference beyond making people less likely to vote after being subjected to barrages of irksome political commercials. Better they waste it on PACs & whatnot than serious data-based GOTV operations that work

    You may have too much confidence in the media; other hand, they can "counter-punch" w/ Trump until both sides are blue in the face if they actually feel threatened. "People have an appetite for honest reporting." That, sadly, remains to be seen.

    "Crisis in Conservatism"? Yes. The right cannot hold.

    And from The NYT:
    "Has Political Fear-Mongering Lost Its Appeal?
    Since 9/11, fear-mongering has been a foolproof political tactic. After Orlando, it’s unclear whether it still works." Haven't read it yet, but if true it could be another positive trend.

    And a Happy Childless Day to you!