How Republicans Became the Party of Trump

I don’t think I will ever get used to hearing once-sensible Republicans singing Donald Trump’s praises.

Four years ago, the likes of Nikki Haley, Rand Paul, Tim Scott and Scott Walker knew that Trump was a bully without ideas; a would-be strongman with an unhealthy admiration for Vladimir Putin; a failed tycoon who didn’t grasp the basic principles of economics; and a thrice-married philanderer who had clearly never read a Bible.

Four years later, with the economy in free fall, America’s reputation in tatters, multiple former Trump campaign officials in prison and 180,000 Americans dead as a result of coronavirus, they’re telling the Republican National Convention that Trump is the only thing standing between them and the abyss.

How did this happen? Read more “How Republicans Became the Party of Trump”

Trump Supporters Reject Choice, Tradeoffs

Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Two recent stories have similar takes on what motivated millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump:

  • Masha Gessen draws on Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom (1941) to argue in The New York Review of Books that Trump’s supporters are overwhelmed by freedom of choice and would rather cede agency to a strongman. Hence Trump’s obsession with those who embody choice: immigrants and transgenders.
  • Adam Garfinkle and Aviezer Tucker argue more specifically in The American Interest that it is a complex reality Trump’s fans wish to escape from: Read more “Trump Supporters Reject Choice, Tradeoffs”

The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them

Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Shocking though Donald Trump’s victory was, looking back we can see how his presidency is the culmination of trends, some of which have been decades in the making:

  • Polarization: The sorting of American voters into two ideologically homogenous parties.
  • Urban-rural split: The Electoral College and Senate give more power to the conservative countryside at the expense of liberal cities.
  • Imperial presidency: The executive has accumulated power at the expense of other branches of government, raising the stakes in presidential elections.
  • Politicization of the courts: Presidential appointments of federal and Supreme Court judges undermine the perceived impartiality of the courts, which in turn weakens the rule of law.
  • Overreliance on the military: Foreign policy is now run by generals, not diplomats. The military has its own hospitals. It plays a crucial role in disaster relief. It may not be long before the Army Corps of Engineers is asked to fix America’s broken infrastructure. Read more “The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them”

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid!

Donald Trump
Donald Trump gives a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

The votes for Brexit, European populism and Donald Trump weren’t working-class revolts.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Serwer have argued that mostly-white elites are drawn to the “economic anxiety” thesis because it absolves them of responsibility for more intractable problems, like racism, xenophobia and self-delusions about both.

If nativists are motivated by stagnating wages, then there are policy solutions for bringing them back into the mainstream.

But what if their grievances aren’t so concrete? Read more “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid!”

Season of Discontent: Parallels Between Brexit and Trump

British parliament London
Westminster Palace in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

The winter of 1978-79 is remembered in Britain as the Winter of Discontent. There were mass strikes and inflation spiraled out of control. The situation led to the election of Margaret Thatcher that spring and the rise of neoliberal policies.

Could the summer and autumn of this year one day be remembered in a similar way?

In both Britain and the United States, there have been revolts against the establishment and the status quo, leading to calls for radical change. Read more “Season of Discontent: Parallels Between Brexit and Trump”

Liberal America Unwittingly Radicalized Trumpland

Donald Trump
Portrait of Donald Trump in West Des Moines, Iowa, January 23 (Tony Webster)

When it became clear Tuesday night that Donald Trump was going to defeat Hillary Clinton in the big industrial states of the American Midwest — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — I thought of the way Barack Obama had triumphed there four years ago.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, was a decent and thoughtful man who I supported for president. It bothered me at the time that Democrats were portraying him — insincerely, it seemed to me — as a heartless plutocrat. But that’s how Obama won over the white working class in the very states Clinton lost on Tuesday.

I sensed there was a connection between the vilification of Mitt Romney and the victory of Donald Trump, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this quote from a conservative voter in The Atlantic:

Give people the impression that you will hate them the same or nearly so for voting Jeb Bush as compared to voting for Trump and where is the motivation to be socially acceptable with Jeb?

It is now starting to sink in that liberal America unwittingly radicalized Trumpland. Read more “Liberal America Unwittingly Radicalized Trumpland”

What Just Happened in America?

Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

The blog originally began with a simple vision: complicated foreign policy analysis stuffed with swears to soften the otherwise indigestible material. As the years have worn on, I’ve largely dropped that approach.

But I feel we deserve the old way today.

So let’s start to dig through the rubble and figure out what the fuck just happened in America. Read more “What Just Happened in America?”

Conservatives Come to Terms with What They’ve Done

The one good thing that may come of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is an awareness on the American right that it has done real damage to the Republican Party and indeed the country.

Not all conservatives are ready to admit that Trump is the end of the line for a movement that has for decades fed off people’s anxieties and undermined their faith in institutions. But for some, Trump is making clear what the politics of grievance and anti-government can lead to.

A spat between two right-wing commentators — Sean Hannity of Fox News and Bret Stephens of the The Wall Street Journal — is a preview of the blood feud we can expect on the right post-November if indeed Trump loses the election.

Hannity has preemptively blamed center-right Republicans, arguing that the likes of House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate leader Mitch McConnell have been harsher on Trump “than they’ve ever been in standing up to Barack Obama and his radical agenda.”

He said on his radio show, “You created Donald Trump, all of you. Because of your ineffectiveness, because of your weakness, your spinelessness, your lack of vision, your inability to fight Obama.” Read more “Conservatives Come to Terms with What They’ve Done”

Trump Supporters Haven’t Been Hurt by Immigration or Trade

Oakland California port
Port of Oakland, California (iStock)

One theory of Donald Trump’s popularity has been turned on its head. Gallup’s Jonathan T. Rothwell argues in a working paper that the businessman’s voters are not in fact motivated by any disproportionate impact from immigration and trade.

Rothwell bases his analysis on interviews Gallup conducted with more than 87,000 American voters, including Trump supporters and Trump opponents. He then compared support for Trump to various other indicators, including proximity to the Mexican border (which Trump has famously promised to wall off), the share of manufacturing in local employment, educational attainment and racial segregation.

Some of his findings confirm widely-held beliefs. Trump’s voters are older than the general electorate and more likely to be retired; more male, more white, less likely to hold a college degree and more likely to work, or have worked, in a blue-collar profession.

But their average household income is actually higher than the general population’s and they are more likely to be self-employed than unemployed. Labor force participation is lower among Trump supporters, but not after adjusting for age.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise altogether. The website FiveThirtyEight previously reported that Trump’s supporters on average earn more than the average median household, belying the notion that they are working class. Read more “Trump Supporters Haven’t Been Hurt by Immigration or Trade”