17 June 2016
It's someone else's turn to have no choice in November
Joe Scarborough was a Contract With America vintage Republican congressman who resigned early in his fourth term and later turned against the George W. Bush administration in opposition to the war in Iraq. He now hosts the Morning Joe talk show on MSNBC, where he serves as the nearest thing to a house conservative. A couple of days ago he lamented that with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the apparent nominees of the major parties, there was no one for him to support in the general election campaign. What he means, of course, is that the only two candidates likely to win are distasteful to him. A lot of Americans have felt that way every four years for a long time. It's shocking to see someone best described as a center-right Republican say it, however. How could people like him have grown so suddenly alienated from the rank-and-file who've anointed Trump? You still wonder what it is, exactly, that they hate about the presumptive nominee. Specifically, is it a matter of form or content? Do they worry about specific things Trump may do, or about the manner in which he may do anything? More profound, perhaps, than their alienation from Trump is their alienation with the people they considered their base. They seem to have so completely misread the base, so completely misunderstood the people they presumably appeal to during every election, that you might wonder in retrospect whether the infamous "southern strategy" that restored the Republican party to national power was a conscious thing, after all. Mainstream Republicans -- or should I say the Republican establishment? -- fatally underestimated the communal element in the base's thinking, the quality called "solidarity" when viewed positively or labeled "tribalism" or "nativism" when viewed negatively. They failed to recognize that patriotism is a two-way street -- that it means not just loyalty to an abstract concept of the nation and the ideas for which it's said to stand, but also loyalty to the people who form the nation and an unshirkable concern for their material interests. These Republicans' epitaph might read that they loved the country but not its people. It's been interesting reading David Brooks' recent columns on the need for a new moral politics founded on love, because there's an electorate out there that's very clearly looking for love. While Trump's followers are perhaps more jealous about it than Bernie Sanders' followers, more angry over having seemingly been rejected in favor of others, you arguably can see a common yearning for a polity that has the people's back, that doesn't prioritize abstract principles (right or left) over people. I think Brooks underestimates how much the love he recommends can be a jealous love, while he may not even recognize that the different hatreds associated with the Trump and Sanders movements actually express a demand for love from the nation. But political Republicans have suddenly been shown to be utterly blind to that demand, offensive as it is to their sink-or-swim individualist ethos, while Democrats arguably have been promising love to everyone without appearing to love everyone as equally as they claim. In part, this now self-evident emotional neediness on the part of voters may repel mainstream Republicans, while the emotional neediness of the white working class in particular, their desire not to be seen as the bad guys all the time, seems to confuse and frighten Democrats. This election will be decided by emotions more than ideology in a more obvious way than previous elections, and while I also wish for better candidates and will start actively looking for them, I have to say that if this alienates the "establishment" to the point that they can't support anybody they have only themselves to blame.