28 December 2016
Mueller goes on to characterize Trump voters as "a white-identity movement," but let's not go there today. Just from what I've quoted, I think it can be seen that Mueller overstates his case against populism as supposedly exemplified by the Trump movement. For him, populism is clearly on a slippery slope to Nazism because of its exclusivist or supremacist assumptions, but I think something slightly less awful is going on. Let me suggest that populism is less a claim of exclusive national or cultural identity and more an assertion of priority best summarized in the familiar slogan, "America First." We might get a better grip on populism if we accept that its opposite is not pluralism, which would make populism totalitarian, but universalism. In the U.S. at least, Trumpist populism rejects first and foremost the idea that the American people should treat everyone on earth the same way we treat each other; that we should let foreign industry compete with domestic industry by any means necessary; that we should let people from any country settle here; that we should care what happens to people in other countries as if it were happening here to us. This is why populists oppose free trade and neocon foreign policy as well as "multicultural" tendencies at home. The guiding idea is that the first priority of foreign policy and trade policy should be to maximize American interests, understood as the material interests of the American people, and not to fulfill any ideological imperative. Domestically, populism is more likely majoritarian rather than dogmatically authoritarian or totalitarian. Majoritarianism can take authoritarian forms, but it isn't necessarily as hostile to pluralism or multiculturalism as Mueller supposes populism to be. It makes pluralists and multiculturalists uncomfortable just the same, not by challenging their legitimacy, much less their existence, but by insisting that on some level -- electorally, at least, but perhaps culturally as well -- minorities are answerable to the majority, on the assumption that the majority has some right to define what the national culture is -- or to say that there is a national culture -- just as it should define the national interest.
Like other non-liberal mentalities, populism may reject a liberal ideal that is individualist as well as multicultural and asserts that it's your unassailable right as a citizen to be yourself, whether that means identification with something other than the majority or traditional culture or an idiosyncratic self-fashioning in defiance of any cultural norm. By rejecting this ideal a populist doesn't necessarily see nonconformists or self-conscious minorities as traitors, but he may feel that such people are failing part of their responsibility as citizens. In our time populism seems inevitably to bend right because most of the American left has shrugged off old notions of individual duty, while populism may have assumptions about citizens' duties (rather than their rights) at its core. The first duty for populist citizens, we can guess, is loyalty in action if not thought to a nationality that is concrete and specific, made up of real people who have a claim on their fellow citizens prior to the imagined claims of humanity. Such a claim offends those who see no contradiction between love of country and love of humanity and thus see populism imposing a zero-sum choice on them at humanity's expense. I don't assume that a populist can't be a humanitarian, but I'd guess that populists see love of country and love of humanity as separate kinds of love that should not be confused with one another to the point of disproportion. If they seem sometimes like ignored or cuckolded spouses in their anger at those who dismiss or disparage their claims, then you're probably getting closer to the essence of populism than many academics do. There's nothing automatically authoritarian about such attitudes, but the attitude comes with an assumption that you don't really have a right to ignore it, and for some people that's just as bad.
27 December 2016
21 December 2016
20 December 2016
In any event, perspective determines perception. In Russia and Syria, I don't doubt that they took the assassin at face value as a representative or champion of their immediate enemy -- or better yet, as confirmation of their own propaganda portraying all enemies of Assad as terrorists. The Turks, meanwhile, are embarrassed by this lapse of security at a time when President Erdogan reportedly wants to improve relations with Russia even as he remains opposed to Assad. For them, the easiest explanation of the assassination may be that the killer was actually an agent of the same diasporic conspiracy, whose leader remains in American exile, that organized the failed coup against Erdogan earlier this year. The idea in that case is that someone wants to sabotage Russo-Turkish reconciliation for selfish reasons that actually have little to do with Syria. Likewise, I think American perception of the assassination has little to do with Syria, which may only prove how ineffective western propaganda against Syria and Russia has been. With the rise of Trump in the U.S. Vladimir Putin's popularity reportedly has increased among Americans, and for all I know polls might reveal growing respect for Bashar al-Assad so long as he is described as someone opposed to ISIS rather than someone opposed to Israel. The humanitarian appeal to action isn't working the way it used to as the neocon notion that the world will always be improved by overthrowing tyrants appears to be refuted by recent history and people worldwide feel they have more to worry about than whether faraway people suffer. Alleviating Syrian suffering is worth no one else's life, not even a Russian's.
19 December 2016
This is not a new idea. It partly explains why we have an Electoral College in the first place. The Founders accepted that each state (and each future state) was in some respect a culture unto itself that was owed protection from the homogenization likely to result from domination by the most populous cities and states. Their great assumption, ironic in light of this year's supposed populist uprising, was that no one part of the country could claim to be America, and that no group of people -- not even a numerical majority -- could claim to be the American people in any sense that compelled people in the minority to submit unconditionally. The national interest emerged only from a consensus of these different peoples requiring a compromise of each group's particular interests, and not from the largest group dictating to the rest. On top of all this, cities have been mistrusted as cauldrons of decadence and dependency since ancient times, and despite the seemingly inexorable urbanization of the world the countryside's distrust of city dwellers may only have intensified in modern times. The irony is that the people today who insist most vocally that they are the American people in some implicitly exclusive way have made their hero the next president through a system that rejects their pretense. I've warned in the past, however, that Madison's schemes to contain majoritarianism have been strained by evolving forms of identity that transcend the geographic and "cultural" boundaries he knew: partisanship, race-consciousness and ideology. It remains to be seen whether the Electoral College's favoring of a purported populist signals a larger failure of Madison's system to prevent the sort of "tyranny of the majority" that many fear today, even as they claim that the "tyranny" lacks a real majority.
15 December 2016
The TU makes an ad hominem appeal to faithless electors supposedly authorized by Hamilton. The editors claim to be guided neither by ideology nor a desire to see Hillary Clinton become President. And to be fair, they more or less rule out the Clinton option by suggesting compromise Republican draftees who are certain to reject the proposed honor like a poisoned chalice or a bloodstained crown. They condemn Trump for his narcissism, his assumed conflicts of interest as a global businessman, his nebulous-seeming relations with Russia -- should we recognize this as the liberal answer to birtherism? -- , as well as "the bombast, the insults, the lies, the bigotry, the attacks on the free press" and so on. But ad hominem arguments are plentiful enough to be practically worthless, and can come from any quarter. You're sure to find people in this country who'd find any President-elect since Carter (except, perhaps, for the first Bush) personally or superficially unworthy of electoral votes. Anyone who is elected President is going to be disliked by millions of Americans. Any President-elect is going to inspire fear in his opponents -- and that probably applies even to the first Bush with his CIA history. But to the extent that fear follows from one side losing an election, both sides have to live with that fear, the winner tolerating it without feeling insulted and the loser swallowing enough of it to abide by the rules of our republic. Donald Trump won the presidency by the rules that have prevailed for more than 200 years. The only other time people rejected an election result this vehemently, the result was civil war. Of course, no newspaper editor today wants a civil war, and if we get one the editors will blame the other side. Nevertheless, there's something cowardly about this call, not just the hysterical fear of Trump that inspires it but also the constrained legalism of it all. For if Donald Trump is so self-evidently unfit for office that we should risk a terrorist civil in order to keep him out of the White House, why even leave him alive to rally the enemy forces. Given the likely consequences of overturning the election this way, how much worse would it have been for the Times Union simply to call for Trump's death? Either way, after all, someone is sure to die, so why not make sure the one you're really worried about goes first.
13 December 2016
Sens. McCain and Graham, of course, leave nothing to inference. "Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” the Arizonan says, basically daring Tillerson or Trump to say otherwise. These aren't the only Russophobic Republican senators, and unless Tillerson makes "so unequivocal a condemnation of Putin that he they can confidently support him," as this source expects them to demand, they leave Trump in a position where he may have to make deals with Democratic or independent senators to get his man through. Of course, Democrats hardly lag behind Republicans in their Russophobia; that's why Putin supposedly favored Trump for the presidency in the first place. An op-ed columnist for the liberal New York Daily News could be elaborating on Rubio's theme when she writes that "A successful secretary of state has to be willing to fight for humanity," and that "there are non-negotiable values that the world counts on to be upheld and championed by the United States." These include “freedom of speech, conscience and religion, the rule of law and economic freedom" -- not in the columnist's words but in those of a State Department mission statement. As far as Russia is concerned, this means that a Secretary of State, not to mention the President, must be willing, going back to the columnist's words, to "repel Kremlin attempts to bring sovereign nations back under their influence by force." More generally our diplomats "should ache with every massacre against innocents, regardless of their race, nationality, religion or socioeconomic background."You can guess that the writer includes many Syrian rebels, those in Aleppo if not those in Palmyra, among the innocents.
Before I go on, I should confess that I've been a little unfair to the people I've quoted, because all of them do affirm that a Secretary of State first priority is the country's national interest. The problem, however, is that they seem not to see any possible contradiction between national interest and appeals to ideology or emotion. Too many Republicans think ideology is the national interest, while too many Democrats base national interest on emotion. That may render both groups incapable of the Nixonian realpolitik and its necessary compromises and sacrifices that the 21st century may require of American diplomacy, while the people who have no credibility as diplomats today may prove willing and able to "go to China [or Russia -- or Iran, though that'd be a harder sell]" as Nixon did. And to be more fair to the Democrats, I'm quite aware that many of them have the sort of strong anti-interventionist (or "anti-imperialist") principles that temper American Russophobia and could be helpful to Trump. I just don't know if any of them are in the U.S. Senate where he might need them. However, he might find Democrats willing to deal with the devil in return for domestic-policy concessions, and in them the makings of a new governing coalition down the line. That idea leaves me wanting the hardcore GOP Russophobes not to cave in on Tillerson, just to see what happens when Trump has to reach across the aisle.
12 December 2016
Since the days of the so-called Holy Alliance 200 years ago, Americans have seen Russia as an enemy of liberty, whether as a reactionary force throughout the 19th century or as a revolutionary force for most of the 20th. It's almost irresistibly easy to see the Eurasian giant as an evil empire, whether it stands for communism, mere authoritarianism, or only itself, and it's impossible to dispute that Russia has never been very friendly to civil liberty, civil society, etc. But what follows from that? For many in the political and diplomatic establishment here, it follows that Russia, in resisting U.S. encroachment on its historic sphere of influence -- a process seen here as simply the spread of liberty -- must be advancing an "authoritarian" agenda that threatens liberal democracy and individual liberty everywhere, including a U.S. seemingly threatened by Trump. You see that thinking in the assumption that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to undermine the moral or intellectual legitimacy of liberal democratic institutions, as if to refute anyone's claim of moral superiority over Russia, when you don't really have to go any deeper than the idea that Putin thought Trump would be more friendly, as he clearly desires to be, than Clinton would have been. Even that minimal motivation is seen by some as damning to both Putin and Trump, on the assumption that whoever Putin favors can only be Putin's stooge or dupe, or else a fellow authoritarian. Entirely missing from such speculation is the possibility that Trump may want better relations with Russia for reasons that have nothing at all to do with Russia's interests.
Apart from building a stronger coalition against the self-styled Islamic State, which has just embarrassed Russia and Syria by retaking Palmyra while the two allies busied themselves with Aleppo, Trump may have a long-term vision of breaking up any "authoritarian" coalition of Russia and China and thus improving both the U.S. position in the Pacific and its balance of trade with China. The Chinese themselves seem to realize that Trump's apparent provocations on the subject of Taiwan are most likely designed to force concessions on trade in return for his renewal of the "One China" policy, and if they're right about that then Trump is probably after as much leverage as possible. Whatever happens, Trump clearly intends to think outside the conventional foreign-policy boxes, which may explain why he's currently looking to the private sector for his Secretary of State. He may feel that the current diplomatic-intelligence establishment is incompetent, but he may suspect that they're too ideologically rigid as well. Whatever he thinks, on foreign policy he has to answer to the Senate and for now it looks unlikely that he will change many minds about Russia. To get anywhere, he'll probably have to go over their heads and use his weird charisma to get public opinion behind his Russia policy, whatever it proves to be. That really shouldn't be too difficult, since most Americans never will give a damn about Russian civil society or the rights of Ukraine. Instead, they should have reason to believe that, contrary to Russophobic rhetoric, Trump is out to put America and not Russia first. That doesn't mean he won't get played by Putin in some manner more likely to harm east Europeans than Americans, but even with that risk Russia is probably one area where people really ought to give him a chance instead of presuming the worst.
09 December 2016
Several hundred Carrier workers may keep their jobs for a while, but multitudes more will suffer in the long run, Will warns. His is at heart a warning against a demoralization of economic life defined by our refusal to submit and adapt to the inherently impartial verdicts of the Market. Instead, the columnist argues that Trump, in his desire to keep jobs from going where the Market directs them, is pandering to a victim mentality among American workers similar to the victim mentalities Democrats cultivate in other contexts. For Will, it is morally wrong for American workers to look to government to protect their jobs. To him, that is a contemptible admission of helplessness when it should always be possible to improve our own lot through effort, but what's really contemptible about this line of argument is what Will holds up as a healthy counterexample.
"[T]here was dignity in the Joad family (of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath)," Will writes, "When the Dust Bowl smothered Oklahoma, the Joads were not enervated, they moved west in search of work." No, your eyes did not deceive you. George Will sees The Grapes of [F'n] Wrath as a hymn to the American work ethic. You know, the book in which the Joads move west not simply because of weather issues but because their farm was repossessed by a bank. I'll let Wikipedia tell the rest: "Reaching California, they find the state oversupplied with labor, so wages are low, and workers are exploited to the point of starvation. The big corporate farmers are in collusion, and smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices. Weedpatch Camp one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency, offers better conditions, but does not have enough resources to care for all the needy families. Nonetheless, as a Federal facility, the camp protects the migrants from harassment by California deputies." In other words, government people are good guys in the Steinbeck novel, while by following George Will's recommended course the Joads simply continue to get screwed by the Market. Will's is the sort of deliberate misreading that should bring John Steinbeck bursting from his grave to bash Will in the head with his Nobel Prize. With enemies like Will, Donald Trump deserves more friends. Whatever his nearly numberless faults, Trump as a populist seems to recognize something that the secular Pharisees of so-called conservative Republicanism never have: that the market was made for man -- or, in populist terms, the American market was made for Americans, workers as well as consumers -- and not man for the market. And somehow that makes him a bad person in George Will's eyes. Yet you could argue that Trump is the more conservative Republican than Will so long as Trump intends to conserve -- or, rather, restore -- the original protectionist essence of Republicanism that mastered markets during the 19th century and once helped make America great.
07 December 2016
People voted for him because they didn't believe him. They wanted change but they also had confidence in the basic durability and decency of America's political institutions to protect them from the worst effects of that change. They wanted Trump to shake up a system that they also expected to shield them from the recklessness of a man like Trump.
Runciman writes believing himself that more radical change, presumably in a leftward direction, may be required than either Trump or his fans desire, but that it will require a degree of risk few Americans seem to want. "The understandable desire to keep the tanks off the streets and the cashpoints open gets in the way of tackling the long-term threats we face," he argues. Anyone who thinks Trump will bring radical change is mistaken, he claims, because Trump is not the "disruptor" they hope for. The distinction between taking Trump literally and taking him seriously extends to basic perceptions of what the man is or represents. If some see Trump as a disruptor, Runciman sees him as "a spiteful mischief-maker." If others see him as another "authoritarian father figure" in the Republican presidential mode, Runciman sees "a child, the most childish politician I have encountered in my lifetime." Here I think Runciman's own notions of what makes a "father figure" may get in the way of seeing Trump clearly, since my gut feeling is that many do see him as a Big Daddy figure, and an authoritative if not authoritarian one, even in the absence of whatever gravitas or responsibility Runciman deems paternal. On some level, however, Runciman believes that American voters share his perception. "The people who voted for him did not believe they were taking a huge gamble," he reiterates, assuming that "they believed that [the political system] was still capable of protecting them from the consequences of their choice." He assumes that Trump's election is no more than a "tantrum," but this assumption seems to be based more on his perception of Trump than on any deep perception of Trump voters. From his safe distance he may not be taking them either literally or seriously. Time will tell whether that is wise.
06 December 2016
30 November 2016
Somehow I don't think using the human body as a metaphor is the best strategy for someone arguing for diversity as an end unto itself. Sure, if all the organs or organelles of the body exist in a state of mutual fear and distrust the body itself will be in bad shape, but will it be much better off if each organelle does its own thing, as they must if this is to be a meaningful metaphor. All I'm saying is that body metaphors are better arguments for unity than diversity, and while Doormouse in his/her own fashion may be arguing for a form of unity, it's probably not the sort of unity of purpose and function that a living body requires. I also have to disagree with the Vigilance's exemption of religion from insult, if not also from "exploitation" or "violence." Religion isn't the same as ethnicity; it's a value system and as such is subject to criticism, even if the criticism proves "insulting" to those criticized. It would make as much sense to call it bigotry if people are criticized for their ideology -- though I suppose that's exactly what some of the Trumpophobes are doing. You can interpret that either way: that they're calling Trumpists bigots for criticizing the ideology of people like Doormouse, or that Doormouse is a bigot for equating Trumpism with bigotry. Trumpism is bad enough (in its blind faith in folksy billionaires, for instance) without jumping to that conclusion. Meanwhile, Doormouse has resolved to ruin next month's holiday gatherings with politics ("We shall challenge our relatives' ignorant views"). Vive la Resistance!
29 November 2016
28 November 2016
26 November 2016
Compared to his historical peers, Fidel Castro at least had a sense of his own limitations. He did not feel the need to rule or reign until his last breath, and in his brother he apparently had someone he could trust in a way few of his peers did. Nevertheless Castro's death is being celebrated in the streets of Miami and elsewhere as the demise of a tyrant, and that's understandable. His repression of civil liberties in Cuba was inexcusable and his tendency to see any dissident as an American agent was either dishonest or pathological. Yet it would be wrong to let the knee-jerk liberal judgment preempt further analysis of Castro's place in history. The civil-liberties standard is not the only one applicable to political leaders. Many people around the world still see Castro as a great man, not only as a revolutionary leader, but as someone through whom Cuba has improved life in other countries. This is the part when someone mentions literacy rates, public health, etc., and someone else asks what good literacy is if you can read only what Fidel allows, or what good longer life is if you have to spend it all under a dictator. I don't know if there's have an objective answer to that, but I suspect that we can be too quick to jump to conclusions about other people's quality of life. Nevertheless, I expect history to judge the Castro brothers harshly, not just because history is often written by liberals but also because most people assume now that Cuba would have been better off today had the 1959 revolution never taken place, no matter how much longer the prior dictatorship stayed in power, so long as a liberal regime followed it. History seems to show that Marxism-Leninism was the answer nowhere, except arguably in China where it served to clear out centuries of deadwood so a modern economy could be built on largely non-Marxist principles. China was a model often urged on Castro, but one he never embraced. Whether he was right or wrong depends on your opinion of today's China, but his failure to make Cuba any kind of paradise certainly makes him less of an idol or icon today than his comrade Che Guevara. That only shows that it's easier to revolt than to rule, and if there's any tragedy to Castro's story it's that he will always be judged more harshly than Che because he chose the harder course.
22 November 2016
20 November 2016
It's hard to take the fascist threat as seriously as the author intends when he can't even spell fascist correctly, but I suppose pointing that out makes me some kind of orthographic fascist. Beyond that, "Doormouse" is perhaps necessarily vague on the terms according to which various groups must come together or work together. The author rightly prioritizes resisting a "rigged" economic system, but while the Vigilance emphasizes that the middle class itself is threatened by neocon/neoliberal policies, it's unclear whether Doormouse has figured out how to build a resistance without alienating a "white male-dominated" middle class presumed jealous of its "overt dominance over social, economic, cultural and political aspects of daily life" -- whatever that means. This large, still-decisive demographic can't be treated as victim and villain at the same time, but whether the left can stop itself from treating them exactly that way remains to be seen.
19 November 2016
18 November 2016
17 November 2016
16 November 2016
By and large the Athenian example was one from which the founding fathers wished to dissociate themselves. Madison made a point of distinguishing the American republic from the 'turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern [i.e. Rensaissance] Italy....In the representative principle he saw the remedy for the inherent turbulence of democracy, which, he argued, was a bad thing in ancient Athens. 'In all very numerous assemblies,' he insisted, 'of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates,' he maintained, 'every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.'
Madison and other Founders identified democracy with government by an assembly that constituted itself as "the people" but consisted of whatever (presumably qualified) people were motivated or could be induced to show up. The Americans insisted on democracy delegating power to representatives through elections, and demanded the extra safeguard of a Senate whose members sat for longer terms and were chosen by state legislatures, not directly by the people. Legislators in either house were presumed capable of deliberation in place of "passion," with the Senate under less immediate pressure from the rank and file. Obama, by comparison, equates "democracy" with "democratic republic," and trusts in the deliberative capacity of the people themselves. For him, democracy's redeeming virtue -- the thing that makes it, in Churchillian terms, the least worst form of government, is its self-correcting quality. In a speech today, he equated democracy with the scientific method, claiming that it's more responsive to facts than any other form of government. When you consider how both the electoral and the popular vote turned out last week, you may be tempted to laugh at his idealism. There's no room for ideology in the scientific method, the President observed, but there's no bar to ideology or other prejudices at the polls. Were the Founders here, they'd probably conclude that the 2016 election was waged with undiluted passion on both sides -- by the candidates if not the voters -- but they'd hope that the people elected, the legislators in particular, will govern more dispassionately. That seems unlikely, though there is still room for hope that Donald Trump is not as thoroughly governed by ideology or passion (go ahead and scoff!) as his party.
Modern American politics -- and, some might argue, Greek politics as well -- may only demonstrate the bankruptcy of political philosophy as a method for recommending or guaranteeing ideal forms of government. Every form of government ultimately depends on the character of the people who govern. That's just as true for the American model of a constitutional democratic republic as it is for any authoritarian model. Any model might work with the right people in it, and all will fail, through abuse or decrepitude, without the right people. No model can guarantee a consistent supply of "right people" across generations; no amount or quality of education can perfectly immunize people from the temptations of power or the temptations of surrender. No mechanism of ideal government can be set in place and left to operate on its own. Obama's panegyrics to democracy ring hollow after a generation of American efforts to spread democracy by the sword, even as he repeats the old saw about the peacefulness of democracies. The world has had too much of political theorizing in recent centuries, whether from a passion to make omelets or a zeal to protect every egg. We might be better off thinking practically rather than theoretically, about solving problems as they come rather than the right way to solve every problem. Our goal should be to say that we are governed not right but well. There is a difference.
15 November 2016
14 November 2016
10 November 2016
Update: Right now there's probably an early disconnect between Trump and his fans. The President-elect is getting kid-glove treatment from President Obama and the Democratic leadership and seems to be responding in kind -- Obama, he said today, is "a very good man" -- while his followers only see the protesters from Wednesday night and are blaming everyone to the left of themselves. Through my sources I get the impression that Trumpites are angrier at these protests than they've been at Black Lives Matter demos and their attendant riots. While Trump may be waxing conciliatory the rank and fire are only getting into a more retributive mood. I don't know if Trump himself has opined about the demonstrations or if the coddling he's receiving right now is cancelling out whatever anger he may feel at them, but whether Democrats have any influence over the crowds or not -- and given the hard-left tone of the protesters, I doubt they have much -- it would probably be a good idea for the President, the Clintons, etc. to urge people to take a breath, take a break, do anything but do that again right away, because the constituency for a crackdown is growing. On top of being the sorest losers since 1860, their outbursts could well make their fears of "fascist" suppression of dissent a self-fulfilling prophecy.
09 November 2016
Trump may be sincere about reconciliation, but real reconciliation requires movement by both (or all) sides, and it's too soon to tell whether the Democrats left in the trenches after Obama and Clinton retire from public life will be in any conciliatory mood. Back in 1968, when American politics was just starting in its current awful direction, it was still reasonable to suspend judgment on a new leader until he could be judged by what he did. We judge politicians now by what they think, or what we believe them to think, and to the extent that Trump is assumed to be a billionaire bigot with authoritarian tendencies Democrats -- not to mention the juvenile leftists who staged mini-riots in some cities overnight -- will no more want to give him a chance than Republicans were willing to give the alleged Alinsky cultist Obama a chance in 2009. In either case it's a failure to respect the electorate. The alternative isn't to roll over for Trump and an unleashed Republican Congress, but to wait until they actually do objectionable things rather than object preemptively. There's no evidence yet to suggest that Democrats are ready to listen to the plurality -- Trump will be yet another minority Republican president and still trails Clinton in the popular vote by the latest count -- much less the President-Elect. The Democracy continues to suffer from a self-inflicted tone deafness that hears any protest from working-class whites against anyone but the "1%" as hate. Their perception isn't entirely wrong -- I have to listen to Trump supporters as part of my job and some of them are indisputably haters -- but the real error is to attribute all their complaints to hate. We were told this year that "racial resentment" led many whites to misrepresent economic conditions as worse than they actually were, and that seems to have been a fatal error. It's more likely that economic distress led to greater "racial resentment," but to admit even that would have been to admit that people were still hurting despite Obama's efforts against the Great Recession -- or, arguably in the case of Obamacare, because of his efforts -- and this the Clinton campaign would not do.
The same thinking drove Clintonites to claim that by pointing out bad conditions in black communities, Trump was insulting those communities. That's what happens when you assume that bigotry is Trump's core ideology; Clinton probably was trying to warn blacks that Trump wanted to strip blacks of power within their communities, but blacks themselves probably found it absurd for her to state that their neighborhoods were essentially "vibrant." If black turnout declined from the Obama elections, as many suspect, or if more blacks voted for Trump than expected, it's probably because many realized that Democrats, however, well-meaning, had no real answers for the country apart from the old standby of soaking the rich. This election may have confirmed the demise of old-fashioned class consciousness in this country, outside the Democratic leadership. They could not compute -- and so attributed it to "hate" -- how a boorish billionaire could claim with any plausibility to be the working-class candidate. He was a billionaire, after all! Even if he could talk the blue-collar talk he had to be conning them! What were these blue-collar bootlickers thinking? They were thinking of themselves, most likely, as a "working class" in essential antagonism not with the employing class -- their exploiters according to traditional class consciousness -- but with a non-working class of welfare and disability clients, the same American lumpenproletariat that thwarted the Sanders challenge to Clinton's nomination. This newly conscious working class will be rewarded with supply-side economics and (in all likelihood) a new class of crony capitalists for their support of Trump, but Democrats may not be rewarded in any way for years to come if they can't make a distinction between "hate" and an understandable small-d democratic desire that everyone pull his or her own weight as far as physically or intellectually possible. The Democracy may finally have succumbed to latent contradictions in its ideology. Practically from its beginning the Democratic party has portrayed itself as the party of the working class, and in keeping with the long-term agenda of the American labor movement it still sees its goal as an easier life for the majority of Americans. In olden days that meant obvious things like shorter hours on the job, workplace safety, financial aid for college, etc. But we may be at a point where the promise of an easier life has become a hedonist end unto itself, detached from the idea that working people had earned the right to an easier life than bosses would grant them without government or union pressure. An easier life is a plausible goal according to a progressive notion of history, but events appear to have overtaken that liberal utopianism, and the old appeal to an easier life seems an inadequate response to those events. There's no "or else" in the liberal utopia, where each of us would be what each alone meant to be, without consequences, but liberals haven't caught up with the possibility that an "or else" moment is upon us, when Americans will be expected to pull their own weight or be more than their sheltered selves. The electoral tide may turn again when Democrats (or their successors as the "left" party) reconcile themselves to all of this instead of dismissing it as "hate." Doing so might make things easier for themselves and their constituents in the years to come.
Above all, however, the Democrats have to nominate better candidates. Hillary Clinton's campaign was a suicide pact in almost adolescent protest against the "hate" that supposedly motivated every objection to her ascension to power. So bewitched were Democrats by the "hate" narrative that few really could comprehend why anyone took the email controversy seriously. By their logic, for Republicans to accuse Clinton was to prove that she had done nothing wrong. Yet even if you leave out this last straw of a scandal, the Clinton campaign appeared complacently incompetent compared to the Obama operations of previous elections. On top of all its errors of perception and tone, it ran an almost entirely ad hominem campaign against Trump, when the sensible strategy would have been to warn voters against his likely recourse to discredited Republican policies. Instead, over and over again you saw that stupid commercial with the kids watching Trump on TV. Sure it was always funny hearing Trump singsong, "And you can tell them, to go ... themselves," but kids don't vote, for one thing, and for another it should have been clear by the summer of 2016 that for millions of America Trump's occasional asinine sayings were entirely irrelevant to his qualifications for office, or else gave him an important common touch untainted by a p.c. hypersensitivity that was getting in the way of necessary debates. On economics, after all, apart from trade, how different was he from Republican orthodoxy? We'll all find out soon enough now, but Democrats should have been slamming him as Dubya Redux all year, and instead made it look like the worst thing about Trump was that he had a potty mouth and a funny voice. For all we know, any Democratic nominee might have made the same mistakes, though I feel in retrospect that Sanders could have won with his own style of populism, but we'll never know for certain because the Clinton Cult drank its last round of Kool-Aid out of some misguided sense of loyalty and/or history. For some she had been the Chosen One since 1992, and why that was will be one of the great mysteries of American history.
Hopefully a 73 year old Clinton won't be taken seriously for 2020, especially given the rumormongering about her health, but if Trump really screws up you never can tell. It's more likely that, disqualifying Joe Biden for age as well, the Democrats will choose between Sen. Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Booker of New Jersey, the one possibly catapulted at the Glass Ceiling by feminists, and probably backed by the Sandersites, and the other an Obama 2.0: younger, probably more centrist than Warren and more likely to get out the vote despite the continued temptation of History. Of the two I'd prefer Booker because, while it was understandable that he not seek to succeed Obama immediately, Warren abdicated the responsibility all Democratic leaders had to stop Clinton this spring, whether out of cowardice, deference or some other motivation. For all I know she may have had a cynical expectation that Clinton would lose and thus open a spot for her in 2020, whereas Warren probably is too old to wait until 2024, but that doesn't help anyone else now. One can still hope that in four years the Democrats won't be our only realistic alternative to Republican rule, but it's probably too early to predict the shape the opposition will take until Trump gives them something solid to oppose.