01 February 2016

Populism and accountability

You'd think Charles Krauthammer would wear the insults of Donald Trump like badges of honor, but in a presumed effort to appear objective he doesn't mention them in his Washington Post diatribe against Trump and Senator Sanders. The Democratic (socialist) candidate gets relatively little attention since Krauthammer still considers the possibility of his nomination "far-fetched." His real concern is with the future of the conservative movement, which he sees threatened by Trump, not only because of Trump's doubtful sincerity as a conservative but also because of his "populist" tendencies. What Krauthammer means by "populism" is best illustrated by his comparison of Trump and Sanders -- whom Krauthammer apparently sees as a left-wing populist -- with his own idea of "reform conservatism."

In radically different ways, Trump and Sanders are addressing the deep anxiety stemming from the secular stagnation in wages and living standards that has squeezed the middle and working classes for a generation. Sanders locates the villainy in a billionaire class that has rigged both the economic and political system. Trump blames foreigners, most prominently those cunning Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese and Saudis who’ve been taking merciless advantage of us, in concert with America’s own leaders who are, alternatively, stupid and incompetent or bought and corrupt.

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 My personal preference is for ... the reform conservatism that locates the source of our problems not in heartless billionaires or crafty foreigners, but in our superannuated, increasingly sclerotic 20th-century welfare-state structures. 

Krauthammer's policy preferences aside, he may be on to something without realizing it. Leave aside also whomever Sanders or Trump actually blames for anything. The main point, the obvious difference between their "populism" and Krauthammer's ideology is that he blames systems for the nation's problems, while the populists, true to their name, blame people. Populism, I'd guess, is less concerned with the right ideas holding sway than with the right people doing so, whether they're defined individually or demographically. Hence the politics of personality that sees many rank-and-file religious conservatives supporting Trump despite their awareness of his many personal indiscretions, as well as many young people supporting Sanders, the seeming crabby old man, because a certain crabbiness may be what it takes to speak truth to power or bring it to account. For such people, structural change matters less as an end unto itself than the character of the change-maker. Senator Cruz also benefits from this to an extent, as the open contempt his fellow Republican Senators show for him signals to the grass roots that Cruz may have the personal qualities necessary to make change when ideological qualifications haven't sufficed. While Krauthammer might believe that a change of mind might redeem old politicians who sign on with "reform conservatism," populists probably feel that past failures -- as in failing the American people -- disqualify politicians from ever reclaiming public trust. That's how many Sanders supporters feel about Hillary Clinton, I suspect, and many of them probably won't vote for her if she gets the nomination unless they get really, really scared of the Republican nominee. Ditto for Trump supporters if their man loses, unless their hate for Clinton is as really, really strong. In any event, some sort of populism -- some sort of politics that calls on leaders "like us" to stand up for people "like us" -- probably rises inevitably from the bankruptcy of ideology. To ideologues, especially those skeptical towards Trump -- Krauthammer sees no evidence that the billionaire believes in limited government, for instance -- it looks like unprincipled politics, but if ideology, in the long view, proves to be the aberration in political life, the advent of a more populist (or simply more personal) politics may only mean that politics have returned to normal, or what it was supposed to be.


Anonymous said...

" His real concern is with the future of the conservative movement, which he sees threatened by Trump,"

Actually, the main threat to conservatism is conservatism. I shall elaborate. One of the main things I've noticed about conservatives is their reliance on the "us vs. them" model of social/political division. The further right on the spectrum, the more narrowly they define "us" and, consequently, the more broadly they define "them". The teabaggers have a very narrow definition of "us", and so are tearing the conservative movement apart.

Conversely, the liberal approach is no better. Their idea is to include everyone and we can see just how that is turning out. A recent "estimate" I saw online by a relatively liberal group insists that only about .0002% of muslim refugees are actually terrorists. According to PEW statistics, there are about 3.3 million muslims currently in the US, which makes the number of terrorists a conservative 600. Considering that less than 25 muslims in America have accounted for nearly 4000 deaths since 2001, even this conservative estimate indicates we can look forward to as many as another 100,000 American deaths at muslim hands within the next few years - within the borders and territories of the United States of America. That does not include deaths outside of the US.

Since the obvious solution is to send the muzzies packing, one must wonder at just how stupid/masochistic the American people are?

Samuel Wilson said...

Muzzies? That actually sounds cute, which I think is not the effect you want.

Anyway, your problem with conservatives apparently isn't necessarily with their "us vs. them" attitude in general, but with prejudiced application of it. Consider this: while liberals may err on the side of tolerance and so on, and you prefer to expel un-American elements, conservatives actually want to keep their enemies close, so to speak. Maybe they want "them" around as scapegoats or scarecrows to keep their base riled up, because only by keeping that base fearful can they succeed. Without "them," they'd have nothing to offer, unless they made up a new "them" to scare people with. Since I suppose some people think you're a right-winger now, on the assumption that only the right can take an exclusionary attitude, this may be a way to maintain a distinction.

As for your statistics, I think you mean "since 2000," since the numbers for the 2002-2016 period are less gruesome.

Anonymous said...

The problem, of course, is that 911 was not the ONLY terrorist act. And those committed since 911 have been American citizens.

I'm used to the unintelligent and unimaginative assuming I'm a liberal if I disagree with their conservative world views and a conservative if I offend their liberal sensibilities.