Donald Trump has long said
that his candidacy represents a movement
, not just a conventional campaign. The thing is, he has a point. What began as an insurgency, dismissed as unserious by mainstream Republicans, has swept aside supposed heavyweights like Jeb Bush and John Kasich to capture the nomination and then make a frighteningly-credible play for the general election. Yes, he'll almost certainly lose, but current polling
and Electoral College projections
look like the run-up to an "ordinary" Democratic win similar to 2008 or 2012, not to the blow-out one would expect after one party nominated such an outrageous and fatuous candidate.
So yes, the Trump "movement" has fallen with one hell of a splash into the calm blue waters of conventional political thinking, and we would be wise to consider its implications even after it is finally flushed away in November. What lessons can we find here?
, some of the rhetorical sacred cows of Republicanism -- "limited government", free trade, the free-enterprise system -- turn out not to be so sacred after all. To the exquisite horror of mainstream Republican ideologists, Trump has gleefully cast those things aside in favor of a half-assed strongman / autarkist vision more reminiscent of Putin's Russia than of the ideas of Adam Smith or Ayn Rand. And most rank-and-file Republicans seem OK with this. Like us, they resent the rule of a small, wealthy elite, even if their grasp of the details of the problem is frighteningly naïve and distorted. The real free-market ideologists have largely decamped to Gary Johnson, but there don't seem to be very many of them.
Even after Trump's defeat, it will be almost impossible to restore the free market / trade / limited government shibboleths to their position as part of the core ideology of the Republican party (assuming the party survives at all
). Everyone has seen that hardly anyone really cares about that stuff, and they won't be able to unsee it.
What viscerally attracts many of Trump's followers to him is his blunt appeal to nativist / white-nationalist fears and loathings. Kick out Mexicans, wall off Mexico, exclude Muslims, dismiss blacks' anger about police abuses as unfounded, roll back the social and civil-rights gains of gays. Basically, push away all the changes in the world which the most provincial and uneducated part of the population finds so threatening and confusing. All this is totally incompatible with small government and has very little to do with free enterprise. The appeal is cultural, not economic. As I've always maintained, the real divides in this country are over cultural issues rather than economic ones
. Yes, Republican leaders have exploited
their mass base's cultural concerns to win votes and thus advance an economic agenda, but that just reaffirms that fact that it was those cultural issues that really moved the millions.
, there is a specific problem out there which we need to deal with. We all know that high-paying industrial jobs have been disappearing for decades, partly because of competition from lower-wage countries (and companies moving production overseas) and partly because of automation reducing the demand for labor. This collapse of the economic underpinnings of the rust-belt standard of living has been followed by a cultural collapse
-- while rates of drug use, crime, and other pathologies have plummeted among black and Latino youth, those rates have shot up among older, low-skilled whites. That latter population feels ignored both by a Democratic party beholden to minorities and the educated, and by a mainstream Republican party which they can now see works mainly for Wall Street not main street. Especially given the cultural resentments fueled by the overthrow of their traditional dominance and by the rise of minorities, gays, and a high-tech economy that doesn't need them, they've been primed for the appeal of Trump or someone like him.
This is a serious problem and it won't go away when Trump is defeated. It needs to be addressed. Arguments about whether that less-educated white demographic "is" or "is not" racist, or how deserving they are of sympathy relative to other groups, or who is to blame, are all pretty much irrelevant from my pragmatic standpoint. The point is, what do we do
about this? From a strictly economic perspective it's part of the technological transition from the traditional economy based on human labor to the future model where most production is done by machines -- a transition to be eased by plans such as Basic Income
. But inculcated resentments toward minorities, cultural hostility toward rapid social change, and the persistent feeling that their place in the sun in "their" country has been unjustly usurped and must be restored, militate against accepting or even understanding the kind of help that the left, even with the best of intentions, can offer.
It's only proper that the Democratic party returned to power will prioritize meeting the concerns of its loyal constituencies -- blacks, Latinos, gays, the non-religious, etc. But it will also need to start trying to coax the Trumpanzees out of their bubble of cultural resentment and address their problems. They are part of our country too, and they vote, and they aren't going anywhere.