Is the key to Donald Trump’s success just old-fashioned racism? He surely stokes race hatred among his followers and even more-or-less openly panders to anti-Semitism. Yet he also seems to feed on economic desperation. He has won running against trade, his support tracks inversely with educational attainment, and he’s posted his biggest margins in some of the most desperate counties in America; surely economic anxiety has something to do with his rise.
This has led to various attempts to untangle race from economic factors in predicting Trump’s support. An effort from The Washington Post found some of both, with racial resentment something like twice as important in predicting Trump support. Yet one should not end the analysis there: Trump also represents bitter hatred of the political system, driven by the shredding of the American social contract over the last 40 years.
The thing about Trump is that not only is he the most openly bigoted presidential candidate since 1968 (or perhaps even 1948), he’s also utterly uncouth and unqualified. Unlike William F. Buckley, his racism is not genteel or hidden behind polite words, and unlike George Wallace or Strom Thurmond, he has precisely zero political experience. Even against his Republican primary opponents, he was a boorish jerk, insulting their wives and boasting about the size of his penis.
In other words, Trump doesn’t just express bigoted views, he also has utter contempt for the traditional norms of political decorum, and in previous times would have been considered a completely laughable choice for president. But his followers revel in it.
The rise of Trump is worth examining in the context of this brilliant article by Matthew Stoller, detailing the change in the American social contract from the postwar generation to today. In brief, for 30 years after World War II, there was a strong political-economic consensus around a high rate of unionization, shared productivity growth, strict financial regulation, and low unemployment — all centered around homeownership as the bedrock of middle-class status and wealth.
Starting in the mid-’70s, this social contract was slowly ripped apart. First unions were deliberately crushed in the Volcker recession, and low unemployment was gradually discarded as a political goal. This severed the link between productivity growth and wage growth. Meanwhile, Wall Street was slowly unchained, resulting in repeated financial bubbles, each one larger than the last (and each with concomitant sprees of fraud).
Yet growing consumer spending was still needed for economic growth. Thus American women went to work, and American families levered up. They took out credit cards, and drew down their savings. “Finally, they liquidated their financial assets, including their home equity,” Stoller writes. A new, much less egalitarian social contract emerged, where wages were replaced with credit.
But this contained the seeds of its own destruction. Eventually Americans had reached the absolute limit of how much debt they could take on, while simultaneously Wall Street blew up the biggest bubble yet, and this time around the key asset for ordinary families. When home prices collapsed, middle-class America got it right on the chin, and tens of millions were ruined outright.
As David Dayen’s new book details, the Obama administration rescued Wall Street from its self-induced problems but basically ignored foreclosures, figuring that eventually the system would unclog and normal operation of the mortgage and homebuilding sectors would return. They didn’t, because the administration fundamentally misunderstood what was happening. Home equity collapsed for years, and while it has since recovered to some extent, drastically fewer are represented: The homeownership rate has steadily fallen to levels not seen since the mid-’60s.
The Reagan-era social contract has collapsed, and nothing is on the horizon to replace it — indeed, it’s hard to imagine a “social contract” whereby a largely parasitic financial and executive class makes off with virtually all income gains, a rapidly vanishing middle class is increasingly locked out of wealth creation, and the political class is all but owned outright by Wall Street. Such a society would be more about coercing consent from the restless masses through surveillance, mass incarceration, and highly militarized police than it would be about obtaining it by social spending and quality services.
A white backlash to the first black president is a very important part of Trump’s rise. But the fact that he represents a raised middle finger to the entire American political system is, I submit, about equal in importance.
Now, it’s worth noting that the old postwar days were by no means perfect. Homeownership is a highly problematic bedrock for middle-class wealth, particularly in the dispersed, suburban style typical of America. Worse, a great many demographics were left out of the good times — minorities and women especially.
Yet it is unquestionably true that those days had much more enthusiastic buy-in from the broad mass of the population than today. Trust in the federal government has fallen from 77 percent in 1964 to about 20 percent today. The approval ratings of the Supreme Court and especially Congress have also plummeted.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, minority activism to get a piece of what the white middle and working class had was a sensible goal. Now it seems inadequate, as more and more white folks are careening down to meet their black brethren at the bottom of the social ladder.
What is needed is a new social contract that restores some fairness and decency to American society. Without it, the politics of rage and contempt will only grow.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 24, 2016
“Donald Trump And The Power Of Denial”: Wake Up GOP, The National Leader Of Your Party Is Donald Trump
I hate Donald Trump and much of what he represents. But do you know what I hate even more?
The right has been deep in denial for years. Honed under the last Republican president into a sure-fire method of inspiring confident resolve in the face of adversity, denial of reality has by now become almost second nature to many party apparatchiks and their intellectual compatriots in the right-wing media. Of course we’ll find weapons of mass destruction! The occupation is going just fine! It’s not Bush’s fault that New Orleans got caught with a bull’s eye on its back when Hurricane Katrina blew by! You can’t expect the president who’s been in office for seven and a half years to take responsibility for the worst financial crisis in seven decades!
Coulda happened to anyone.
And now, after seven more years of denial — this time about Barack Obama’s popularity, the Affordable Care Act, and much else — the instinct to close eyes and cover ears in the face of what most people would consider very bad news has settled into the slow-motion car wreck of the GOP primaries.
Donald Trump has now won 26 states. (His nearest competitor for the nomination, Ted Cruz, has won 11.) Trump prevailed in all five northeastern states that voted on Tuesday, all five of them with over 50 percent of the vote, and some with over 60 percent. (Cruz appears to have finished in third place in four of the five states.) Trump is now on track to reach or come extremely close to the magic number of 1,237 delegates by the end of primary season. (Cruz will be nearly 400 delegates behind him after Tuesday’s totals are sorted out.) If Trump falls a little short — because, say, his 17-point lead in California shrinks a bit — he is extremely likely to lock up the remaining delegates in the weeks between the last primaries on June 7 and the start of the Republican convention on July 18.
Barring some unforeseen event that completely upends the race over the next six weeks, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2016.
How do I know this? Because it’s been painfully obvious for a long time now that the Republican electorate prefers Trump to any of the alternatives running for the White House.
Yes, it really is that simple.
Was it obvious from the start of the primary season? No. But it was a lot less impossible to imagine than a dismayingly large number of conservative pundits seemed to think. Trump bounded to the front of the pack very quickly after announcing his candidacy last summer, and his polling lead has never seriously wavered in the intervening 10 months. While columnists and commentators spent the fall gaming out the caucuses and primaries to come, convincing themselves that Rubio or Bush or Christie was the real frontrunner, Trump stayed firmly in the polling lead.
And you know what? That meant Trump was winning.
Of course I realize that no votes had yet been cast. And that no modern party has ever elected a candidate like Trump. But the numbers weren’t lying. We learned that for sure once the voting began and it became clear that people weren’t simply threatening to vote for the man: They were actually going through with it. That meant the polls were measuring something real.
And that something hasn’t gone away.
It was there when Trump faced a dozen opponents. It was still there when he was competing against six. And it’s been there since the field narrowed to three.
It was there when Marco Rubio tried to strike a deal with Cruz and Kasich to deny Trump wins in Florida, Ohio, and Missouri, and Trump ended up winning all of them except Ohio (which, of course, was won by the sitting governor of the state — a candidate incapable of winning anywhere else).
And it’s there now, with Cruz and Kasich working desperately to find some way, somehow to keep Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates.
Oh, have I mentioned that on Tuesday morning Trump reached 50 percent for the first time in NBC News’ national weekly tracking poll? (Cruz languishes at 26 percent.)
I get the importance of resolution in practical endeavors. I understand the psychological necessity of driving doubts from one’s mind in order to lift morale and keep focused on achieving a goal. If you’re a committed Republican or movement conservative who hates the thought of the party nominating Trump, you may find it necessary (or at least helpful) to convince yourself that he’s bound to lose, that someone else can surely prevail against him, even if it requires banishing evidence to the contrary from your mind. In such a situation, the belief that victory is possible can make victory far more likely.
But there comes a time when all the pep talks and desperate rationalizations (like calling Trump’s wins a “hostile takeover” of the party) start to sound ridiculous. That’s when even those who’ve become addicted to denial should be able to recognize that it’s doing far more harm than good.
That time has now arrived.
By all means, help Cruz prevail in Indiana next Tuesday. Do what you can to keep Trump’s delegate total down. But please, Republicans, wake up from your self-induced slumber and begin to confront what reality has wrought.
The national leader of your party is Donald Trump.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 27, 2016
From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.
Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself?
Unfortunately, in the past few days the answer has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.
Let me illustrate the point about issues by talking about bank reform.
The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?
Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.
Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.
You could argue that policy details are unimportant as long as a politician has the right values and character. As it happens, I don’t agree. For one thing, a politician’s policy specifics are often a very important clue to his or her true character — I warned about George W. Bush’s mendacity back when most journalists were still portraying him as a bluff, honest fellow, because I actually looked at his tax proposals. For another, I consider a commitment to facing hard choices as opposed to taking the easy way out an important value in itself.
But in any case, the way Mr. Sanders is now campaigning raises serious character and values issues.
It’s one thing for the Sanders campaign to point to Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections, which are real, although the question should be whether they have distorted her positions, a case the campaign has never even tried to make. But recent attacks on Mrs. Clinton as a tool of the fossil fuel industry are just plain dishonest, and speak of a campaign that has lost its ethical moorings.
And then there was Wednesday’s rant about how Mrs. Clinton is not “qualified” to be president.
What probably set that off was a recent interview of Mr. Sanders by The Daily News, in which he repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans. Mrs. Clinton, asked about that interview, was careful in her choice of words, suggesting that “he hadn’t done his homework.”
But Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war — for which she has apologized — make her totally unfit for office.
This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns).
And the timing of the Sanders rant was truly astonishing. Given her large lead in delegates — based largely on the support of African-American voters, who respond to her pragmatism because history tells them to distrust extravagant promises — Mrs. Clinton is the strong favorite for the Democratic nomination.
Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?
The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 8, 2016
“Their Own Call For Reflection”: It’s Not Just Republicans; Progressives Also Have A Crisis On Their Hands
Obama Derangement Syndrome is striking Republicans once again.
To avoid having to answer for the rise of Donald Trump, they want to hold the man in the White House responsible for the emergence of a demagogic showman who has been the loudest voice challenging the legal right of the winner of two elections to be there.
Obama picked his words carefully but with some quiet glee when he was asked about this at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. “I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things,” Obama said, “but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is” — here he paused, enjoying the moment — “novel.”
On the contrary, Obama insisted, it was Republicans who had created “an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive” and allowed “the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.” He urged his opponents to “do some introspection.”
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
I should acknowledge a stake in this fight, having published a book in January called “Why the Right Went Wrong” arguing that the emergence of Trump was the logical consequence of a half-century of conservative history and of the steady legitimation of extremist ideas within the GOP. The nation, not just the Republican Party, desperately needs a different and more constructive brand of conservatism.
But if progressives are to beat back an increasingly virulent right and encourage the emergence of a more temperate form of conservatism, they have to ponder the crisis on their own side that is visible in this campaign and in most of the European democracies as well.
The strength of Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, like the radicalization of American conservatism, is a symptom of the decay of a moderate brand of progressivism that rose in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and Tony Blair was Britain’s prime minister. Its ideology was rooted in a belief that capitalism would deliver the economic goods and could be balanced by a “competent public sector, providing services of quality to the citizen and social protection for those who are vulnerable.”
Those last words are Blair’s from a collection of essays by 11 center-left politicians from around the world released on Friday by the Center for American Progress and Canada 2020 to coincide with Trudeau’s visit to the United States. The title of their effort, “Global Progress,” is optimistic, and Bill Clinton, for one, continued to express confidence that government could “empower people with the tools to make the most of their own lives and to create the institutions and conditions for them to succeed.”
This never stopped being a good idea, but the sober reflections of Ricardo Lagos, Chile’s former president, pointed to the “significant challenge to progressive politics” created by the economic crisis of 2008. It raised “profound questions” about policies “that favored deregulation of the economy and allowed the financial system to self-regulate.” The moderate left, it turns out, had more confidence in a loosely governed capitalism than was merited by the facts.
And in the post-crash period, progressives largely lost the argument against austerity policies. A significant exception was the United States during the first two years of Obama’s term: Keynesian policies helped lead to a revival of the U.S. economy that was faster and more robust than in other places. But continued economic sluggishness, Lagos argued, feeds “the anger and alienation of a dangerous populism on the extreme left and right.” Trudeau himself said Friday that the economically excluded “don’t feel like this idea of progress holds.”
Lodewijk Asscher, the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote of the challenge to national identity created by immigration and the fear of terrorism. He called for “building a society based on solidarity in which people are seen as individuals instead of members of their group and someone’s background remains just a background.” Well, yes, but, as Asscher no doubt knows, this is easier said than done.
If Republicans delude themselves that Obama is responsible for Trump, there’s little hope for the soul-searching their party requires — all the more so after the violence and threats at Trump’s rallies.
But progressives of moderate inclinations can’t use the right’s shortcomings to blind them to their own call for reflection. Those who believe in gradual, steady progress need to provide plausible responses to a world both less secure and less orderly than it was in the 1990s. Otherwise, the alternatives, as Trump is showing us, will be both irrational and grim.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 14, 2016
“When The Applause Dies For Jeb Bush”: He Misjudged The Depth Of The Anger And Division Within His Own Party
“Please clap,” Jeb Bush wryly told a subdued crowd in New Hampshire last week, a moment that epitomizes his problem.
The pundits call it lack of traction. Among too many voters it’s lack of interest.
If Jeb bombs in New Hampshire, he’s done. Even if he doesn’t quit the race, it’s over.
A year ago this scenario was unimaginable. He had more money, more brains, more connections and more governing experience than any other Republican wanting to be president. Like many people, I thought his nomination would be a slam dunk.
The gaseous rise of Donald Trump upended everything, but not only for Jeb. The other candidates had to scramble, too. Some did a better job.
Sure, Iowa is a silly place to start a presidential campaign. Its demographics are freakishly white, and the GOP electorate is anomalously dominated by evangelical Christians.
Still, Jeb spent plenty of time and money there, and wound up with only 2.8 percent of the vote. That’s miserably weak, and there’s no positive spin.
What’s happening? The answer is, for better or worse: Not much.
Jeb hasn’t made any huge, embarrassing blunders on the campaign trail. He’s not obnoxious or unlikable. True, he’s not an electrifying personality, but in most election cycles that wouldn’t disqualify him.
Obviously, he misjudged the depth of the anger and division within his own party. He isn’t the only candidate to get caught off guard.
But he is the only Bush on the ballot, and that’s probably hurt him more than it has helped. Jeb isn’t the one who invaded Iraq and basically exploded the Mideast. He isn’t the one who jacked up the deficit with war spending and then left the U.S. economy teetering on a cliff.
That was his brother, but seven years later lots of voters haven’t forgotten. Before committing to Jeb, they need to be convinced that he’s way different from George W., that he’s wiser and more careful, and that he doesn’t have a Dick Cheney blow-up doll riding shotgun.
So far, there is no sign of a grass-roots pro-Jeb frenzy. The fact he was Florida’s governor for two terms isn’t wowing the masses — even in Florida.
Polls here show Jeb trailing Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He is only slightly ahead of the sleepwalking Ben Carson.
How is this possible? That question is echoing among the heavy hitters who gave more than $100 million to Jeb’s super PAC. They’re running out of patience.
Jeb’s new strategy is tag-teaming with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to tear down Rubio, who surged impressively and finished third in Iowa. Christie is playing the Don Rickles role, insulting Rubio in public, while the Bush team bankrolls a flurry of anti-Marco ads in the media.
The New York Times reports that Jeb has already spent $20 million attacking his former protege. I guess this means no more workouts together at the Biltmore gym.
It’s a grim battle for the sane wing of the Republican Party, which means placing at least third in New Hampshire.
The positioning is crucial because Trump’s vaudeville act is starting to fray, and the icy zealotry of Cruz scares many conservatives.
If this were a script, you would now write in a timely entrance by the seasoned, well-credentialed Jeb Bush.
Except, wait — there’s baby-faced, inexperienced Marco ahead of him. Way ahead.
Here’s a guy who has accomplished zero in the Senate, flip-flops when he feels the heat and can’t even manage his own credit cards. How is he beating an old pro like Jeb?
By successfully casting himself as a fresh and electable alternative. Rubio’s only got one speech, but he’s good at it. Ironically, he grew up to be slicker and more calculating than his mentor.
Such is Jeb’s desperation that he has a new campaign commercial using a photo of Terri Schiavo. She was the brain-dead woman whose husband and parents were locked in a legal fight over the continuation of life-support procedures.
As governor, Jeb inserted himself into the case, ultimately involving his president brother and Congress in the effort to keep a feeding tube in Schiavo, who’d been comatose for 13 years.
Eventually the courts put a stop to the political meddling, and she was allowed to die.
The episode was Jeb’s worst mistake in office, an obscene governmental intrusion into a private family tragedy. Now he’s dredging up the memory in hopes of attracting extreme right-to-life voters.
If he asks you to clap, you know what to do.
By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 8, 2016