Tag Archives: white nationalism

Trump’s GOP

Ever since the 2016 election, liberal publications have been bending over backwards to include more diversity of opinion, a project that isn’t going so well. As we saw with the Atlantic‘s recent effort, there is considerable conflict over what sorts of “conservative” opinions should be given a respectful hearing–which opinions deserve to be part of a reasoned and civil argument–and which are so beyond the pale that including them would simply legitimize abhorrent positions.

Vox weighed in on that issue awhile back.

The article considered–and criticized–recent efforts by the New York Times to broaden the perspectives represented by its columnists.

The newspaper’s defense, articulated repeatedly by Bennet, news editor Dean Baquet, and onetime ombudsman Liz Spayd, is that the paper is pursuing diversity of opinion, attempting to challenge its readers. “Didn’t we learn from this past election that our goal should be to understand different views?” asked Baquet.

That defense doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. As I said in a column on Stephens last year, “it takes a particular sort of insularity to hire a pro-war, anti-Trump white guy as a contribution to diversity on the NYT editorial page.”

As the article acknowledged, Donald Trump’s victory was seen by a number of  people in “elite political circles” as evidence that they had been living in a bubble of their own–that they had utterly failed to understand a supposed “heartland” filled with Trump voters, and that they needed to understand the perspectives of those voters. (I have yet to run across Trump voters who want to understand the perspective of the “elitists” who were unwilling to hand the nuclear codes to a four-times-bankrupt reality star with no government experience.)

David Roberts, who wrote the Vox column, is particularly critical of the conservatives who write for the Times.

Consider, oh, David Brooks. His conservatism, of Sam’s Club affectation, fiscal conservatism, tepid social liberalism, and genial trolling of center-leftists at Davos — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Brooks?

Or Ross Douthat. He is sporadically interesting, often infuriating, but above all, pretty idiosyncratic. His socially conservative “reformicon” thing — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Douthat?

Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss are a familiar type of glib contrarian. Their opposition to Trump has given them undue credibility among Washington lefties, whom they relentlessly (and boringly) troll. But whom are they speaking for? What has the Never Trump movement amounted to?

Roberts argues that, although these writers might serve the purpose of challenging liberal thinking, they don’t expose Times readers to the people who voted for Trump–the people from whom they are allegedly alienated.

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not.

For many years, many people have convinced themselves otherwise. A lot of people believe to this day that the Tea Party uprising and the subsequent eight years of hysterical, unremitting, norm-violating opposition to Barack Obama was about small-government philosophy and a devotion to low taxes and less regulation, and had nothing to do with social backlash against a black, cosmopolitan, urban law professor and his diverse, rising coalition.

And therein lies the dilemma. An effort to understand conservative philosophy is irrelevant to the reality of today’s GOP. Whatever one thinks of Paul Ryan, he represents the  “small government, low taxes, anti-social welfare” conservatism with which well-meaning (albeit naive) liberals want to engage. Whatever else his departure may mean, it is a signal that the GOP is now the party of White Nationalism, not conservatism, and it has no coherent or remotely respectable philosophy with which to engage.

At this point, though many people on all sides still refuse to acknowledge it, the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture.

It’s Trump’s party now.

 

Voting One’s Interests

Fareed Zakaria is a savvy observer of both domestic governance and international relations, and he makes a very good point in a recent Washington Post column.

It has become a (tiresome) truism that many Americans “vote against their own interests.” This assertion has always annoyed me, because it embodies a couple of arrogant assumptions: first, that the speaker/writer knows better than those voters where their “true” interests lie; and second, that voters’ interests are limited to economic issues.

Zakaria uses the negative financial consequences of the GOP’s tax “reform” bill for Trump voters to make his point:

Congress’s own think tanks — the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office — calculate that in 10 years, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 (around the median income in the United States) would effectively pay a whopping $4 billion more in taxes, while people making $1 million or more would pay $5.8 billion less under the Senate bill. And that doesn’t take into account the massive cuts in services, health care and other benefits that would likely result. Martin Wolf, the sober and fact-based chief economics commentator for the Financial Times, concludes, “This is a determined effort to shift resources from the bottom, middle and even upper middle of the U.S. income distribution toward the very top, combined with big increases in economic insecurity for the great majority.”

The puzzle, Wolf says, is why this is a politically successful strategy. The Republican Party is pursuing an economic agenda for the 0.1 percent, but it needs to win the votes of the majority.

Cue the chorus: why would the people in Trump’s base continue to support him, when his actions (in concert with his party’s) are inimical to their interests? Wouldn’t they desert him if they realized that he is pursuing an agenda that privileges large corporations, wealthy families, and well-positioned rent-seekers? When will they come to their senses and see that Trump and the Congressional GOP are putting in place budgetary policies that will be devastating to the predominantly rural people who voted for him?

Is it that the Republican Party is cleverly and successfully hoodwinking its supporters, promising them populism and enacting plutocratic capitalism instead? This view has been a staple of liberal analysis for years, most prominently in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank argued that Republicans have been able to work this magic trick by dangling social issues in front of working-class voters, who fall for the bait and lose sight of the fact that they are voting against their own interests. Both Wolf and Pierson believe that this trickery will prove dangerous for Republicans. “The plutocrats are riding on a hungry tiger,” writes Wolf.

I fully agree with Zakaria’s rebuttal to that analysis.

But what if people are not being fooled at all? What if people are actually motivated far more deeply by issues surrounding religion, race and culture than they are by economics? There is increasing evidence that Trump’s base supports him because they feel a deep emotional, cultural and class affinity for him. And while the tax bill is analyzed by economists, Trump picks fights with black athletes, retweets misleading anti-Muslim videos and promises not to yield on immigration. Perhaps he knows his base better than we do. In fact, Trump’s populism might not be as unique as it’s made out to be. Polling from Europe suggests that the core issues motivating people to support Brexit or the far-right parties in France and Germany, and even the populist parties of Eastern Europe, are cultural and social.

This is a much more tactful way to explain what the data shows, and what I have repeatedly argued: the majority of Trump’s supporters are White Nationalists (aka bigots), for whom the indignity of Obama’s eight years as President was simply a bridge too far. The real “interests” of these voters aren’t economic; they’re tribal. They are desperately clinging to the white privilege that is diminishing in a rapidly diversifying society. That desperation overpowers any other “interest.”

As Zakaria writes,

 What if, in the eyes of a large group of Americans, these other issues are the ones for which they will stand up, protest, support politicians and even pay an economic price? What if, for many people, in America and around the world, these are their true interests?

So long as they see Trump normalizing and justifying racism and misogyny, these voters aren’t going anywhere. Polls suggest that they represent around 30% of Americans voters, a depressingly high number.

Getting that other 70% to the polls has never been more important.

Then What?

In two weeks, Americans will finally go to the polls. The fat lady hasn’t sung, but she’s humming, and unless every reputable pollster in the U.S. is monumentally wrong, Donald Trump will lose by a very substantial margin.

What we don’t yet know is how much damage the Orange Disaster will do to the “down ticket” races. For the sake of the republic, I’d like to see the Democrats take both the Senate (likely) and the House (not so likely), because otherwise, we are likely to continue the partisan gridlock that has prevented the federal government from functioning at anything but a bare minimum.

When the only thing Republicans can agree on is the need to block anything and everything proposed by a Democratic President, it’s no wonder judicial vacancies (at all levels) go unfilled, only stopgap budgets get passed, decaying infrastructure goes unattended and even urgently needed responses to public health crises are months late.

Whatever the contours of the next Congress, however, the GOP will face an immediate quandary. Can the party be stitched back together? Can its three distinct elements–the white nationalists, the Religious Right and the business/”country club”/establishment wing–continue to coexist in the same political organization?

An article by the Brookings organization suggests that the Republicans take a lesson from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who recently laid out what Brookings described as “a bold plan to reform her country—and her party.”

Prime Minister May framed her party’s task as creating what she calls a “Great Meritocracy”—a country “built on the values of fairness and opportunity, where everyone plays by the same rules and where every single person—regardless of their background, or that of their parents—is given the chance to be all they want to be.” It shouldn’t matter, she said, “where you were born, who your parents are, where you went to school, what your accent sounds like, what god you worship, whether you’re a man or a woman, or black or white.” But if we are honest, she concluded, we will admit that this is not the case today.

Back when I was a member of a very different GOP, those sentiments may not have been universally embraced by the party’s rank and file, but the commitment to meritocracy and the rule of law were at least Republican talking points.

Working-class conservatism can be nationalist without being nativist or isolationist, Mrs. May insisted. It can reassert Britain’s control over immigration without endorsing prejudice against immigrations. It can reassert sovereignty over Britain’s laws and regulations without withdrawing from Europe or the world. And it can respect success in the market while insisting that the successful members of society have commensurate responsibilities to their fellow citizens.

I was particularly struck by the following quote from her speech, because it echoed populist themes that tend, in the U.S., to come from the Democrats:

 So if you’re a boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after your staff, an international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra . . . a director who takes out massive dividends while knowing the company pension is about to go bust, I’m putting you on notice: This can’t go on anymore. A change has got to come. And . . . the Conservative Party is going to make that change.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, the United States desperately needs two adult, responsible political parties. We don’t have a parliamentary system; there is very little likelihood of a third party–new or existing–emerging to fill the void that is the current GOP.

That said, I don’t see how the Chamber of Commerce members coexist with the David Dukes and the Roy Moores. I don’t see how a party that sneers at the very enterprise of government and views large (and growing) segments of its fellow citizens with disdain and explicit bigotry can expect to win elections.

I guess we just need to stay tuned…