observations and opinion
The Coming War between the Retrumplicans and Hillocrats
Donald Trump calls himself a “winner” but his appeal is to the people who have been losing in modern America. What he really is, is the Biggest Loser. And it may win him the White House.
Over coffee on the night before Super Tuesday, a lifelong conservative voter explained to me why he will vote for Trump in November. And why Trump will win. And why Trump should win.
So there it is: the economic divide between winners and losers is sharp and plain; globalization has gutted the old economy and left something unstable and unfamiliar in its wake; the rise of violent, or simply very different, religious minority threatens comfort and/or security; and the nation has simply been poorly governed.
Whether the analysis behind this sentiment is accurate or not (Americans might look more closely at their own native fundamentalist religious population, to find a root cause of political dysfunction) is less important now that recognizing that the view is real, and deeply held, and powerful.
These feelings afflict and affect Americans who call themselves Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It is a fertile political field. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks sincerely and powerfully to a large part of this constituency, but not its “cultural” aspects. Bernie is limited by his integrity and intellect, from cashing-in on the loser sentiment in its most potent form. Trump is not so restrained.
To acknowledge this deeply (and widely) held set of views is not to endorse them. But to ignore this sentiment is to insult the broad populace even further. It is also political suicide, as most every Republican Presidential hopeful has found so far.
The fact that a demagogic, authoritarian bully plutocrat has tapped into it – to exploit it – does not mean that the basic feeling or analysis is not real or even partially correct. The rise of Trumpism reflects the degree of frustration and impotence people feel, as much as anything else.
The people are looking for a saviour, not because they are stupid, but because they are NOT stupid. They have been profoundly ill-served by the political elites who have governed and, in their view, mis-governed so badly for so long. They want something different for themselves and for their kids. And finally, someone is saying out loud, the things they think and feel.
Even if Trump is 95% charlatan, he “talks the talk” and the truth is, he has been challenging the logic of U.S. trade policy for almost thirty years. People hear him speak about this and it simply makes sense to them. It makes sense to them because they have been losing, losing, losing for so long, and up until now, few people have acknowledged their situation or offered a solution.
Our elites despise Trump, not just for his ugly racial pandering, but also for his nativist, protectionist rhetoric and promises. Up until now, everyone except Donald Trump has been wrong about Trump’s prospects. The political and cultural elites, and the broad middle of the population, have regarded him as a joke. They regard his supporters as a joke. But that is because the elites have been deliberately deaf and blind to the sincere, deeply-held beliefs which animate the disaffected.
Trump knows his audience and he is cynical enough to tap into its boiling juices. And so, people – millions of people – are gleefully pushing the political elite overboard and carrying Donald Trump on their shoulders to the bridge of the ship of state. These people are not stupid to do it. They’re just desperate. They are, ironically, the “losers” in the economic game and they’re tired of losing. Trump, who calls himself such a “winner” is in fact, the Biggest Loser. Or at least, he pretends to be.
Meanwhile, across the aisle, the Democrats are coalescing behind the physical avatar of the modern political elite: Hillary Clinton. Congressional lawyer, big money law practitioner in Arkansas, First Lady of the state, political operative of the highest power, First Lady of the United States, Senator, failed Presidential candidate, Secretary of State, multi-millionaire – that’s Hillary Rodham Clinton. While the great divide in American life split farther and deeper, HRC has always been on the winning side of the game.
Super Tuesday is today. As this is written, the results aren’t in. But the polls, which have been accurate in every state so far, give Donald Trump the promise of ultimate victory at the Republican convention. So too for Hillary Clinton among the Democrats. These two likely nominees stand on either side of the great social and political divide in the United States: on one side, those who feel damaged and left behind by modern America. On the other, those who still see hope and promise for themselves in it.
Weirdly, this makes the Democrats the party of the status quo. The party of globalization. The party of free trade. The party of the Winners. Hillary Clinton will have to run a moderately conservative campaign to gather up the millions who aren’t ready for a revolution. Hillary will appeal to cultural liberals and economic conservatives, hoping that coalition of winners holds together.
Hillary’s ace card, or so she and her party hope – is the guy she’s running against. Trump is the closest thing to a genuine fascist the U.S.A. has ever put this close to the White House. He’s expected to scare away more people than he attracts. Not that this theory has held up so far.
If Trump prevails among the Republicans, he will lead his army of Losers into a billion dollar war for high office. He appeals to a coalition of cultural conservatives and economic radicals – radicalized by decades of disaffection and failure. Trump promises to overturn a thirty year status quo of economic theory and practice. Hillary promises to keep it going.
The two great American political parties are staggering towards choosing, on each side, a person who speaks for or embodies the opposing classes of modern American life: the Losers and the Winners. Soon they will meet on a great battlefield. And it will not be pretty.