Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Conservatives, Trump, and the Future

My Democratic friends often wonder why conservatives, especially intellectuals who claim to care about public morality, support Trump's presidency. In an essay titled "What if Trump Fails?" Robert Merry, editor of The American Conservative, lays it out for us. First, he says, the old Republican Party is finished:
Politicians are always the last to get it when the status quo crumbles because they have so much at stake in it. But citizens get it, as they did last year when they used Trump as a blunt instrument to pummel the Republicans’ status quo leaders. . . . The voters got it also when they used Vermont’s Bernie Sanders to bludgeon Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. These weren’t idle actions on the part of the electorate. They represented a stark statement that the old ways weren’t working and they wanted politicians willing to lead the country in new directions, capable of addressing the polity’s festering problems—the hollowing out of the working class, the lack of sufficient economic growth, expanding economic inequality, the lingering immigration problems, the infrastructure crisis, the debt crisis.

Many Republicans seem to think that, as soon as Trump is out of the way, Republicans can go back to being Republicans, and the party of Reagan will rise again. It isn’t going to happen. The era of Reagan is long gone, as Trump proved, and whatever happens to Trump, the GOP will have to craft something new for a new era. Politics is always about the future, not the past.
Second, the old Democratic Party is finished, too, and we can expect the new version to turn hard toward the left:
The Democratic Party is in serious trouble, largely because it clung too long to the status quo politics of Hillary Clinton and her enablers in the party establishment. Now with four post-November congressional election defeats, and with nary a victory of any kind to tout, the party is headed for a raucous time of reassessment and redefinition. It seems inevitable that the party will fall back on the time-tested rubric of liberal populism.

The central cry of the populist is the need to smash institutions of entrenched power that, in the populist view, distort the American system to benefit themselves at the expense of the broad mass of citizens. The central target of liberal populism is the wealthy—in today’s political lexicon, the so-called 1 percent. Large financial institutions and big corporations also are found in the crosshairs of these populists. Their main goal is to redistribute wealth, which means they must enlist government as their ally. And they evince few concerns about powerful labor unions. They want to enlarge federal transfer payments, increase income taxes on the wealthy, make payroll taxes progressive, increase estate taxes, and bolster business regulation. All this would lead the nation, under Democratic leadership, toward European-style socialism.
So in Merry's view, either Trump is somehow successful in leading America from his weird but generally conservative perspective, or he fails – possibly spectacularly – handing the country to a Democratic Party that has been taken over by its left-wing activists. Plus in a broader sense, if Republicans can't make at least some progress fighting the economic problems of middle America, they open the field for a much more left-wing approach.

This seems to me to be a clear explanation of how many Trump-dubious conservatives see the national situation. They may not like Trump, but he's all that's standing between them and Bernie Sanders.


G. Verloren said...


So basically they'd rather elect a dumpster fire and hope it somehow miraculously works out, rather than concede defeat, let the status quo be maintained, and come up with a new plan and better candidates four years down the line?

Sounds about right.

Also, I'm struck by Merry's choice of "festering political problems".

The hollowing out of the working class? What does that even mean? I don't know what world he lives in, but the working class has been growing in America for some time, because the middle class is shrinking. And most conservative policies aim to continue that trend, in large part by slashing or eliminating assistance for the poor. The working class isn't being hollowed out, it's being inflated.

A lack of sufficient economic growth? What level would he deem sufficient? And how would he propose we achieve it? Our economy was doing pretty well until a deregulated housing market and Wall Street gutted it as the rich recklessly sought to get ever richer through dirty means, then got bailed out by Washington when it all came crashing down around their ears.

And yet conservatives want to keep deregulating, and keep empowering the wealthy elites to be able to lie, cheat, and steal without consequence, and just pretend that market collapses like the one we so recently faced are merely random and unavoidable flukes, rather than the predictable product of a laissez-faire mentality toward managing our economy. It's okay - the poor can keep paying the price for the crimes and mistakes of the rich! After all, there are just so many of the poor to go around! We'll just spread the cost around a bit, and it'll all be fine!

Expanding economic inequality? Well, he's got that one right. Now how about he acknowledges the overwhelming role his party has played over the past few decades in contributing to that inequality? Republicans always claim to love the working class, but they nearly always act to empower the rich at the expense of the poor. And somehow people still fall for their transparent schemes. An egotistical billionaire real-estate inheritor from New York City somehow managed to convince millions of poor people in rural America that he is "one of them", and cares about anything other than lining his own dirty pockets and stroking his own bloated ego. Talk about your con jobs!

G. Verloren said...


Lingering immigration problems? What's that supposed to even mean? America is a country built entirely by immigrants, with a long and noble history of fighting to embrace and to uplift the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The only lingering problem we have with immigration is the disgusting centuries old conservative tradition of xenophobia and isolationism, and the monstrous and selfish hypocrisy of people whose ancestors came to this country as immigrants clamboring to turn away those who would follow in their footsteps.

We are ourselves becoming an ancient land, and falling under the spell of our own storied pomp. The mother of exiles disowns her children; she has extinguished and put away her lamp; the golden door is tarnished and barred. And from behind towering concrete walls topped with razor wire, she glowers and peers suspiciously outwards, and trains her guns on the wretched refuse and homeless of the teeming shores from whence she herself came, and under pain of fiery death commands them to turn back into the tempest, there to be tossed once more.

Now, the infrastructure crisis? There is an issue we can all agree on. Our country desperately needs to spend money rebuilding roads, dams, and countless other vital pieces of our society. And we know exactly how to do it, and exactly what it will take to accomplish, because we've done this before, most notably during the Great Depression.

The problem is, we can't all agree on actually doing what it will take to make this work. And a huge contributor to that unwillingness is the conservative mindset. Liberals argue that we need to "Tax and Spend" - stop giving the rich tax breaks, and instead have them pony up their fair share to help rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Conservatives want to let the rich keep their special exemptions and privileges, and just take the money from the poor instead, chiefly by gutting countless government programs for healthcare, education, science, arts, housing, criminal justice and rehabilitation, and more besides.

And lastly, the debt crisis? Same basic issue. Republicans love to wring their hands over our national debt and where we set the ceiling on it, but they never want to do the things necessary to combat that debt. Instead of the "liberal agenda" of increasing taxes, running a government surplus, and beginning the long, drawn out process of paying off our debt, conservatives keep imagining that reducing taxes, running a deficit (but not doing anything productive with it, like rebuilding our infrastructure), and ultimately not having any money left over to dedicate toward paying back what we owe will somehow solve things, rather than just keep making them worse.