What is Trump?

July 30, 2016

Six months ago Donald Trump looked like the method the Republican Party was going to choose to commit suicide. Now Trump looks like he might actually win the Presidency. How can we understand Donald Trump? The American writer Michael Lind has been writing a series of interesting articles analysing the Trump phenomena and situating it inside a bigger process of radical realignment that is taking place in US politics.

In an article in Politico Magazine in March this year entitled “Donald Trump the Perfect Populist: Why the GOP front-runner has far broader appeal than his predecessors going back to George Wallace“, Michael Lind tries to situate Trump in the long history of American populism.

“Is Donald Trump the Perfect Populist, one with broader appeal to the right and the center than his predecessors in recent American political history—so much so it could put him in the White House? In Trump, many of the kind of white working-class voters once called Reagan Democrats have found a tribune who represents their views and values more consistently than conservative populists like the Dixiecrat George Wallace, the Old Right paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan or the “theo-conservative” Pat Robertson, all of whom faltered in their bids for the presidency.

Trump, in fact, has more appeal to the center than the conservative populists of the last half century. Before Trump’s rise in this year’s Republican primary elections, the best-known populist presidential candidates were Alabama Governor Wallace and tycoon Ross Perot, along with Buchanan. Yet none of these past figures had broad enough appeal to hope to win the White House. Despite his folksy demeanor, Perot was more of a technocrat than a populist and did poorly in traditionally populist areas of the South and Midwest, where Trump is doing well. Wallace was an outspoken white supremacist, while Trump tends to speak in a kind of code, starting with his “birther” campaign against President Obama, and his criticism of illegal immigrants and proposed ban on Muslims may appeal to fringe white nationalists even if it has offended many if not most Latinos. Nor has Trump alienated large sections of the electorate by casting his lot with Old Right isolationism, as Buchanan did, or by adopting the religious right social agenda of Robertson.

Indeed, the best explanation of Trump’s surprising success is that the constituency he has mobilized has existed for decades but the right champion never came along. What conservative apparatchiks hate about Trump—his insufficient conservatism—may be his greatest strength in the general election.

[In the year ] 2000, and Trump, encouraged by his friend Jesse Ventura, then governor of Minnesota, was considering a run for the presidential nomination of Perot’s Reform Party, on the grounds that the Republican Party of George W. Bush and Karl Rove had “moved too far toward the extreme far right.” Trump and Ventura hoped to rescue the Reform Party from the conservative allies of Buchanan, of whom Trump said: “He’s a Hitler lover; I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays.” Trump floated the idea of Oprah Winfrey as his running mate . In his 2000 manifesto The America We Deserve, Trump proposed a platform that included universal employer- based health insurance, gays in the military and a one-time 14.5 percent tax on the rich that would reduce the federal deficit and help eliminate the shortfall in Social Security.”


 

In another article in Politico Magazine from September lats year, entitled “How Trump Exposed the Tea PartyThe proof is in: the GOP base isn’t small-government libertarian; it’s old-fashioned populist” Michael Lind argues that the success of Trump exposes how the Tea party movement has been misunderstood by most observers.

“Here are some of the things that have been said by the guy [Trump] who has galvanized the GOP’s Tea Party base and taken the lead in the Republican presidential race:

“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that.”

“As far as single payer [health care], it works in Canada, it works incredibly well in Scotland. … You can’t let the people in this country, the people without the money and resources, to go without healthcare.”

“People as they make more and more money can pay a higher percentage” of taxes.

Only one of two conclusions can be drawn here. Either the Tea Party base—which the media would have us think mainly consists of angry libertarians inveighing against taxes and runaway big government—hasn’t really been listening to Donald Trump, who made all the above statements, or, alternatively, most of the media have read the Tea Party and its true aims and ambitions entirely wrong.

I suggest the latter is the correct answer. The success of Trump’s campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party for what it really is; Trump’s popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism. Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them and against government for Not-Them.

This is what explains a lot of what’s going on now”


 

In an article in The National Interest magazine Michael Lind argues that “The Neocons Are Responsible for Trumpism”

“The possibility that Donald Trump will win the Republican party’s presidential nomination has inspired leading neoconservatives like Eliot A. Cohen, Robert Kagan and Max Boot to insist that they will never support him. But the neoconservatives of a generation ago like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz are themselves partly to blame for the rise of Trump-style national populism in the United States. By spurning their natural constituency—the mostly-white working class—the neoconservative leadership deprived a substantial portion of the American electorate of its own sympathetic, moderating and technocratic intelligentsia.

As a result, in the last quarter century many of the blue collar voters who had been integrated into the FDR-to-LBJ Democrats and then became “Reagan Democrats” in the 1980s have had no intellectuals or policy wonks of their own, no think tanks and magazines that respected their values and interests. Organized labor, which once represented their interests, is nearly extinct outside of the public sector. The cultural left despises and vilifies working-class white men as privileged bigots, period. Neoliberal “New Democrats” focus on an audience of tech billionaires and Wall Street financiers. Conservatives praise the service of working-class men and women in uniform—but God forbid that the same heroic veterans should ask for a raise or a higher Social Security benefit or try to join a union or vote for paid family leave. Lacking any establishment advocates and sympathetic intellectuals, on left, right or center, many white working class Americans have therefore turned to demagogic outsiders like Trump. Where else are they to go?”


 

In an article from Politico entitled Michael Lind argues “This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like: This year, we’re seeing the end of a partisan realignment, and the beginning of a policy one — and U.S. politics is about to change big-time”

“For political observers, 2016 feels like an earthquake — a once-in-a-generation event that will remake American politics. The Republican party is fracturing around support for Donald Trump. An avowed socialist has made an insurgent challenge for the Democratic Party’s nomination. On left and right, it feels as though a new era is beginning.

And a new era is beginning, but not in the way most people think. Though this election feels like the beginning of a partisan realignment, it’s actually the end of one. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened. The type of conservatism long championed by the Republican Party was destined to fall as soon as a candidate came along who could rally its voters without being beholden to its donors, experts and pundits. The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

The 2016 race is a sign that American politics is changing in profound and lasting ways; by the 2020s and 2030s, partisan platforms will have changed drastically. You may find yourself voting for a party you could never imagine supporting right now. What will that political future look like?”

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