Thursday, October 13, 2016

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: The Trump Legacy



Donald Trump is probably the worst major-party candidate for President in my lifetime. I'm horrified by what he says and does-- it is like he is trying to have all of the scandals of an entire political career while he is running for president! He seems disinterested in the most important issues before us, and has bad (even dangerous) answers when he does engage.

Some people say (as Trump would put it) that it could drag the whole Republican party down.

I am not one of those saying "this is over," though. It's not. If this election season has taught us anything, it is not to believe that anything is certain.

If you really do think this contest is over, how will it affect the future of the Republican party?

Comments:
Judging from the obtuse reactions of those who put Trump in the position he’s in, getting away with murder may be the only challenge left. Since I doubt he’d try it I can confidently say no, the contest is not over! This election has been a constant tiresome mix of bafflement, annoyance and ultimately resignation. I’m resigned to the fact that all I can do is put in one drop and hope my bucket fills more (even though I have to say the choice I’m left with does not make me proud of the vote I will cast). The truth of the matter is this election exposed not only the intellectual rot contaminating the republican electorate, but that there’s enough hypocrisy and soul searching to go around a couple a thousand times for both the Republican and Democratic Party.
 
The Trump Legacy? Exposing the fissures (possibly the permanent incompatibilities) of the Republican coalition.

PART I

Two Truths:

1. Informed observers have long explained the post-WW2 conservative coalition as a three-legged stool:

1) classic conservatives (Russell Kirk and Edmond Burke) who believed in conserving the the hard-earned wisdom of 4,000-years of human history and philosophical discovery, e.g., G.K. Chesteron and the "democracy of the dead"
2) libertarian, free-market conservatives
3) cold-warriors who believed the United States was locked in an historic duel to the death with communism in which the fate of the world hung on a USA victory.

Add to that two elements in the final quarter century of the c. 20:
1a) the religious right who emerged and demanded government respect and even represent their Christian and Judeo-Christian family values and
3a) neo-cons who were mostly a group of Trotskyite intellectuals who had soured on the utopian promises of Marxism and now believed that defeating communism and projecting American power and ideals represented the last best hope for the world.

2. Needless to say, America's victory in the Cold War dealt a serious blow to one of the main threads uniting the diverse conservative coalition. And a certain crisis of identity has plagued c. 21 Republicanism, which has endeavored to reform and reconfigure itself in various ways all in an attempt to remain viable over the course of the post-Cold War era.

 
The Trump Legacy? Exposing the fissures (possibly the permanent incompatibilities) of the Republican coalition.

PART II

Where are we now? THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE KINDS OF REPUBLICANS in 2016:

1. Sean Hannity Populists. This a smorgasbord of popular conservatism. Hannity conservatives are generally anti-illegal immigration. Newly anti-trade. They hold blunt views on welfare and poverty and crime and punishment. They are law and order conservatives. They are anti-PC, anti-multiculturalism, anti-elitist, and pro-American. They are anti-Washington, anti-Establishment, and pro-Christian. They are pro-Constitution (although they don't know it or understand it very well). They are nostalgic for Reagan's America (which was nostalgic for Ike's America). They are against bureaucracy and executive overreach and judicial overreach. They are for congressional action (when power is in the hands of conservatives), investigations, shutdowns, and all manner of hardball tactics against their political enemies. They are anti-Affirmative Action, skeptical of "white privilege" and totally dismissive of "gender studies" rhetoric. They don't trust Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as honest brokers. They are convinced that NPR and the NYT are in the tank for the other side. They feel looked down upon by Harvard and Yale, who thinks they have all the answers even as they have totally screwed up the country. They think that $20 Trillion is a big deal. They are not anti-war, but they are done pussy-footing around. They believe in American strength, but they want to go big or go home. They believe "Radical Islam" poses more of a terror threat in the homeland and the world than white supremacists. And they can't understand why so many Americans have so much trouble acknowledging this fact that seems so obvious to them. There is some racism in this group, but that is not the main driver. There is some anti-gay bigotry in their ranks, but that is not the key note. They want black people to work hard, support the police, and express gratitude for first-class citizenship in America. They want gay Americans to pipe down and not cause trouble, buying flowers from non-evangelical florists for their weddings without making a big scene.

And they love Donald J. Trump. They understand his mangled syntax because they know what he means. And they know he really doesn't mean what CNN insists he means. Neither do they care that DJT is not an ideological conservative b/c they never cared about all that theoretical stuff anyway. It was always a lot of "yeah, yeah, yeah" and a few head nods but it was never meat and potatoes or cornbread and biscuits. Screw the eggheads at Harvard. Screw the eggheads at the Heritage Foundation.

In truth, these guys are not all wrong on every item (there are actually some--actually many--items in the above numeration worth discussing). However, the Hannity conservative are an inch deep and a mile wide on all of it. No discussion is likely to proceed past information gained in a fifteen-minute Hannity rant.

A PROBLEM: these folks have lost faith in the intellectual leaders of conservatism and the political leaders of the Republican party (both of whom to be discussed in PART III). They are a huge renegade faction millions strong and increasingly impossible to channel into a conservative coalition led by conservatives and promoting conservative principles.
 
The Trump Legacy? Exposing the fissures (possibly the permanent incompatibilities) of the Republican coalition.

PART III

2. Constitutional Conservatives. Intellectuals mostly. They believe in the founder's constitution--not because it is inerrant, but because it represents a framework developed by a very astute set of characters who understood human nature and the basic problems that plague self government. More importantly, constitutional conservatives understand that fidelity to the Constitution represents an absolutely necessary limiting principle in a world in which power is the enemy of liberty. This is why this group can in one breath say Donald Trump is an abomination--wholly unfit for the office of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan--but also reserve the option of voting for Trump (on the binary choice theory) based on the calculation that he represents the least damage to the residue of our constitutional government.

An Aside: "if you combined the best of Trump--and the best of Clinton--you would have the third worst candidate to ever run for president."

A PROBLEM for Constitutional Conservatives: 2016 illustrates that their numbers are just about analogous to the abolitionist movement during the 1850s, just a tiny sliver of the electorate, probably single-digits. Constitutional Conservatives are totally at the mercy of a mass political culture who does not understand--and has no interest in even attempting to understand or even listen to their point. Con-Cons are in dire straits.

3. The GOP Ruling Class. This is the group that Hannity Conservatives surely hate the most. These are the mealy-mouthed Harvard and Yalies who frankly have much more in common with Hillary Clinton than the basket of deplorables voting for Donald Trump--and will most likely vote for Hillary Clinton in the privacy of their voting booth. These folks actually believe in government. They also believe in a bi-partisan foreign policy structure--and although they see President Obama as a disaster in that regard, they have some hopes that Hillary will restore some sanity to American foreign policy (they correctly see Trump as the third erratic and massively disruptive "course correction" in a row. Moreover, they are prospering under the current system with all its problems.

Odds and Ends. A big chunk of Christian conservatives are voting for Trump out of desperation and also because they are more Hannity than Christian in their politics. This comes as a sad realization for many in the old conservative coalition. Also, for the most part, the neo-cons are more in the camp of the GOP Ruling Class than the Constitutional Conservatives because of their faith in the tradition of American foreign policy (which, ironically, they actually helped to divert in the Bush-43 admin). But traditional foreign policy is much better than chaos (and, besides, many of them are actually anxious for a reset). While they are not unsympathetic to the complaint of the Con-Cons, they are more swayed by the intellectual vulgarity and recklessness of Trump. While Constitutional Conservatives can view a chaotic Trump administration as a possible temporary advantage--and, at the very least, a pause in the assault on constitutional government, the neo-cons are not as enamored with traditional limits (separation of powers and checks and balances) and seem more willing to regroup under a Clinton admin and either insinuate themselves into the corridors of power and/or live to fight another day.

All that to say, this looks like a gigantic fracture that cannot be repaired in a season. I am convinced that parts of this erstwhile coalition can never be reconciled. How does George Will ever belong to the same party as Sean Hannity again? I can see a new party emerging and/or some of these factions perhaps crossing over to coalesce with former adversaries. My sense is that nothing will ever be the same after Trump.
 
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