DT is a terrible person, yet almost 63 million Americans voted for him. Although it’s tempting to blame his Electoral College success on mass psychosis, perhaps his win wasn’t so outlandish after all. Charles Pierce argues that DT was a “helluva candidate”:
In fact, for the cultural and political context within which [the 2016] election took place, he might have been a perfect candidate….There really was a big slice of the electorate, concentrated in states that were vital in the Electoral College, that was uniquely susceptible to [DT’s] appeal. He and his people spotted it and campaigned accordingly….
[DT] is merely a cruder manifestation of the political prion disease that has afflicted conservatism and the Republican Party since it first ate the monkey brains 35 years ago. It was all leading to someone like [DT], and something like last year’s election.
Prion diseases destroy brain cells and are always fatal. Fortunately, they’re rare. What Mr. Pierce calls “political prion disease” doesn’t kill the people who have it and is much too common.
The same day this week that Mr. Pierce published his comment, a blogger who calls himself “Driftglass” expressed an equally harsh opinion:
You see, the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file of the [Republican Party] are unsalvageably fucked-in-the-head. They are happily brainwashed nitwits and racists who would gladly belly-flop their entire family into a live volcano if Fox News told them to and would spend their last moments on this Earth before being incinerated into iconoclastic ash cursing Obama or Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Susan Rice for the ouch ouch burning.
After watching Republicans for 30 years marching down and down and down this long and horrifying road to smug, snarling, mindless political bestiality, it is about goddamn time that we started treating this grim fact as a fact.
(Note: I think it’s clear where Driftglass stands.)
Driftglass argues that we shouldn’t try to change these crazy people’s minds or even try to meet them halfway. They’re beyond hope. He points out that President Obama tried and tried again to work with them. Obama was much too optimistic:
At this late date it absurd to believe that we will find any potential converts on the Right, primed and ready for a Road to Damascus moment if only [DT] fucks them over enough… Of course President Obama was never going to say this out loud, or apparently every let himself think such terrible thoughts at all. To him, every Republican pile of horseshit was taken as proof that a pony could not be far away, if only we clapped a little louder, bent over a bit further and were never so crass as to mention that the GOP was run by amoral thugs and hobgoblins.
Not everyone on the left agrees with this position, of course. We’re still being told to see things from the perspective of DT’s ardent supporters, so that we can address their concerns with intelligent, progressive policies that don’t offend their sensibilities. Bernie Sanders, for example, keeps saying there is common ground between us. Everybody hates the big banks! Everybody wants peace and prosperity for all! When salt of the earth, “real” Americans realize the Republican Party has been selling them a bill of goods, they’ll see the light.
I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m even less optimistic after reading a very interesting article by Zack Beauchamp last month. Its title is: “No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism”. Beauchamp describes Senator Sanders delivering his usual message after the election:
Sanders had a simple answer. Democrats, he said, needed to field candidates who would unapologetically promise [to] “to stand up with the working class of this country and … take on big-money interests.”
Democrats, in other words, would only be able to defeat [DT] and others like him if they adopted an anti-corporate, unabashedly left-wing policy agenda.
That’s a belief widely shared among progressives around the world. A legion of commentators and politicians … have argued that center-left parties must shift further to the left in order to fight off right-wing populists such as [DT] and France’s Marine Le Pen. Supporters of these leaders, they argue, are motivated by a sense of economic insecurity in an increasingly unequal world; promise them a stronger welfare state, one better equipped to address their fundamental needs, and they will flock to the left.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that shows otherwise:
The problem is that a lot of data suggests that countries with more robust welfare states tend to have stronger far-right movements. Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighborhoods or competing with them for jobs…
A more populist Democratic platform might rally more voters to [DT], as many whites will see it as a giveaway to undeserving minorities.
It’s hard to believe it’s true, but Beauchamp makes a strong case:
European social democrats have been proposing ideas that more objectively speak to the material interests of voters … for decades. In virtually every country in Western Europe, however, it hasn’t been enough to help the [left-wing] parties maintain their historic levels of public support….
[One political scientist] argues that the combination of rapid economic growth and a robust welfare state have provided voters with enough economic security that they could start prioritizing issues beyond the distribution of wealth — issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and, most crucially, immigration.
So it’s not that European social democrats failed to sell their economic message, or that economic redistribution became unpopular. It’s that economic issues receded in importance at the same time as Europe was experiencing a massive, unprecedented wave of nonwhite, non-Christian immigration.
That, in turn, brought some of the most politically potent non-material issues — race, identity and nationalism — to the forefront of Western voters’ minds. How comfortable were they, really, with multicultural, multifaith societies? The traditional social democratic message didn’t really speak to these cultural anxieties. But the right’s did….
[A German professor] studied data on working-class voters [and] found that the stronger the welfare state, the bigger the gains for far-right parties among the working class. The top third of countries — that is, the ones with the largest welfare states — saw roughly four times the rate of far-right support among the working class as the countries in the bottom third did…. Right-wing populists typically have gotten their best results in wealthier areas of countries — that is, with voters who experience the least amounts of economic insecurity.
This doesn’t bode well for the approach Senator Sanders keeps promoting. But it does correspond to what’s known about the typical DT voter. On average, his voters were more prosperous than Clinton voters (i.e. doing relatively well) but nevertheless intensely opposed to America becoming more diverse (even though diversity is part of our strength). For them, “make America great again” meant “make America like it’s 1955 again”.
If, however, we can’t make them see the light, how do we stop them from electing so many crazy people? If a strong progressive message and policies that benefit society as a whole will only make them angrier, more fearful and more likely to focus on “social” or “cultural” issues, it seems to me that the only thing we can do is outnumber them. We have to oppose mass deportation and restrictions on immigration. We need to welcome refugees. And most importantly, we need to fight for voting rights and always, always, always vote in every single election. Especially for candidates who aren’t crazy.