Trump did not unearth a hidden majority–only a large and neglected minority. The Dems could have found a way to reach out to him over common issues but instead adopted a scorched earth policy.
There were solid political reasons for this. Trump was toxic on culture, identity politics, and PC; and many Dems had become elitist without knowing it. So it would have been hard for the Dems immediately post-campaign to look for common ground, or even to articulate Trump-like positions on manufacturing, middle America, immigration and trade– reliable Dem go-to issues in the past.
So then came the Resistance. But it perhaps was not completely a move of desperation. It could have been in part a calculated risk.
The policy of Resistance left Trump with nowhere to go but to the Rs, who have in the manner of the scorpion crossing the river bitten the host frog on the journey–a murder-suicide because the scorpion could not help being a scorpion (Republicans own the name The Stupid Party for a reason).
Trump might have cured the Rs and if he had the party might have emerged as a real threat. Maybe the wiser Dems decided that the Republicans could not help but be stupid, reasoning that the Republicans would eventually stab Trump in the back and weaken themselves in the process. They can then pick up the pieces–gingerly, hypocritically but probably successfully.
Ah, but what of the Great Populist Moment?
The US was maybe fortunate to have avoided the occasion for socialism. Europe seems so nice to us in retrospect but it had a terrible history. Could be that where populism is concerned Europe will once again catch a deathly flu, owing to the EU’s stranglehold and the near inevitability of more mass migration from the Middle East and Africa? And that America will catch a nasty cold but, owing to its different political conditions and its geographic remove, it will get over it?
Many were surprised at the strength of the anti-elite mood in this country in 2016 but the surprise of it makes it easy to overstate the phenomenon. The fact is that while the most fortunate globalists are the 1% they have an awful lot of cooperative handmaidens. They got too big for their britches and will likely try to adjust them.
The parties have usually found a way to adjust policies and constituencies to arrive a near parity. Maybe this time they won’t make those adjustments on the traditional big government small government divide but on the new elite versus populism divide. The Dems don’t have to move that far to appeal to Trump voters (witness the midterms), especially if the Rs are determined to stay stupid. So this could be one more finesse, larger then usual but still a finesse, followed by a new normal.
Ah, but can the Dems pivot, or are they too much hostage to their constituencies to even embrace parts of Trumpism without Trump?
Could be they are captive of identity politics. But seems to me that identity politics in the first instance is for the most part eye candy. Sure there are real things stuck in there but for the most part it is symbolic in nature.
Do the Dems do much for African-Americans? Does BLM? Blacks may not be able to look forward to full employment and stable communities but they can look forward to pride, attitude and the celebration of their culture.
That comes cheap in many ways to political and business elites. Indeed in a post-industrial future it seems a reasonable though craven path to take. Why bother integrating blacks into the workforce when they can be sidelined with bread and circus follies, with any blue collar jobs remaining after the impact of technology going to another wave of immigrants willing to work for even less, and not complain, and vote Democratic to boot?
The Left has always had a problem squaring the white deplorables with minorities. But while that is a difficult problem it is not impossible. I am not sure the Dems have to publicly wean themselves of identity politics. Clinton had his Sister Souljah moment and everyone kind of got along after that for a while. Why can’t the Dems do a modified Sister Souljah on the one side and a modified Trump middle America on the other? Politics is mostly about messaging in our era and has stopped being mostly about real things. Couldn’t a master messenger figure out how to capture a good deal of populist energy without losing the identitarians completely?
In any event if the Rs self-destruct and Trump implodes the table will be set and we will see what happens. It is quite possible that the twin collapse of mainstream Republicanism and the Trumpist challenge –if that occurs–will leave the so-called Trump coalition with few alternatives, and they can be had for cheap. Buy low, sell high.
“Couldn’t a master messenger figure out how to capture a good deal of populist energy without losing the identitarians completely?”
In a word, no. That is too narrow a path. No one can walk that tightrope. Adhering to ludicrous demands has simply become too popular on the Identitarian Left. They can not be appeased. They will find a way to be aggrieved.
I am open to that notion since I was just speckalatin’. But here is my counterargument.
How deep does toxic identity politics penetrate into the hearts and minds of the people it purports to speak on behalf of? There is no question but that identity leadership is more polarizing than the people if only because the interests of the leaders is best served by a more extreme message. That’s why a counter message–an updated Sister Souljah message–might have some traction. The counter messenger would do nothing to suggest disrespect for identity leadership since honor is important. Rather the message would seek to grab even higher ground–“time for us all to come together!” It would count on several factors for success:
1. Regular folk are not as wedded to identity politics as leadership.
2. Trumpism might generate some traction on bread and butter issues historically important to Democrats, including minorities. If Main Street gets a break instead of the constant attention on all things Wall Street the base might be more receptive to traditional themes, courtesy of an imploding Trump.
3. Maybe some identitarians won’t like a message that reaches out to whites simply because whites are racist. But do the math. How many of these “irredeemables” would you lose versus how many “deplorables” might you gain?
4. Don’t you think pretty much everybody (other than leaders) is sick to death of cultural warfare now and would be open to a way out?
5. Identity politics is mostly the beard of the Dems in the first place. If the trade-up on votes works let some be angry. The party is not really about those issues but is mostly about money, as parties tend to be in the final analysis. And the bigger the money the more the power and interests at stake. Isn’t this what the Republicans have just demonstrated: that moneyed interests will in the end prevail on party matters?
6. Last there is the Trump phenomenon itself. You say the identity crowd is too thick and nothing can be done about it. But might that not be too much inside the box thinking? No one thought that any candidate of any party could run and win on a Trumpist platform. Interests too strong. Too many powers against. Has never been done before. But he did it. Trump brought the “buy low sell high” instincts of a businessman to politics. Get along go along usually works in politics. In business it is better to be a contrarian if you have done your homework. Why can’t there be a Democratic version of Trump? That person would not have to be as rough around the edges as Trump–indeed, should not be that rough around the edges if that person wants to claim a new moral high ground.
This is some pretty thorough speckalatin. One other scenario that I think needs to be considered is what I’d call the “candidate of projection.” We saw a bit of this in France with Macron. As Trump drove away lack of political experience as a barrier to high political office, he opened the door to future office holders with little public record. I can easily envision a personable candidate checking the mental boxes that US voters are yearning to support, with just a few rhetorical nods in the populist direction you lay out.
There is that pesky problem of who carries Trumpism forward in the absence of Trump. There are many ways a void can be created. He could opt to not run for a second term, lose the election or be removed in other ways, legal or extra-legal.
And it is not as though he is all that lovable to his base in the first place so there is good reason for a succession plan no matter what happens in terms of remaining in office. I am sure there are those who consider him wonderful in all ways but I expect many on his side see him as a very flawed tribune for things they care about. Given that the political system will systemically resist the production of actual politicians who give a whit about things like immigration any successor will likely be a ‘candidate of projection’ of one form or another.
But who? There are precious few that look like they are waiting in the wings to take up that mantle. There are some loud Trumpists out there but most, like Ann Coulter, have rendered themselves toxic in their zeal. And most Dems are unwilling to even begin to pivot away from PC’s embrace.
So, indulging in even more abjeck speckalatin’ . . . .
For the Republican: James Woods.
For the Democrats: Tulsi Gabbard or Donna Brazile.