The Fate of the GOP

“In no partisan spirit I contend that the Progressive movement began within the Republican Party. It rapidly advanced its control, shaping policies of state administrations, and stamping its impress upon national legislation as a distinctly Progressive Republican movement. And upon this fact in recent political history I appeal to Progressive Republicans everywhere to maintain their ogranization within the Republican party.”

Robert M. La Follette, La Follette’s Weekly Magazine, Volume 4 (1912)

Here are some thoughts on the historical origins, present state, and future potential of the Republican Party. Besides those like Cindy McCain and Mitt Romney, there have been waves of moderates, conservatives, and traditionalists (not to mention neoliberals and neocons) leaving the Republican Party or otherwise pulling away from partisanship (along with big biz taking its money elsewhere, at least for the time being). It most clearly began with Donald Trump’s nomination and first presidential campaign. The news media, at the time, reported on many Republican leaders who spoke out against Trump or even spoke in favor of the Democrats. Trump, as a demagogic opportunist, was able to takeover precisely because the GOP was the weakest it had been in more than a century; and Trump would only weaken it further.

It was a dissolution that, in Republicans gaining victory and wielding power, would worsen. The previous fractures in the party broke wide open and have become a gulf, such that a large number of former officials from the Bush administration are now disavowing their ties to the party: “Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Bush White House’s communications office for six years, said roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it, from conversations he has been having. “The number is growing every day,” Purcell said” (Tim Reid, Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult’). Others like Reagan Republican Joe Scarborough had left a couple of decades ago, presumably already having seen George W. Bush taking the party in an undesirable direction, maybe in having set the stage for the right-wing reactionary takeover of the party that was completed with Trump’s reign.

With the attack on the Capitol, QANON conspiracists in Congress, and GOP’s continued defense of Trump, yet more Republicans have been disgusted and demoralized, some finding appeal in Biden’s nostalgic call for the norms of established institutions and the normalcy of respectablty politics (no matter that this rhetoric seems hollow to many others). This is how the GOP might fully become Trump’s party, as the last of the anti-Trumpists leave and so cause further concentration of the extremists within an ideological homogeneity and insular echo chamber. And it’s not limited to GOP leadership abandoning ship. Recently, tens of thousands of voters have changed their Republican Party affiliaton — over 10,000 in some individual swing states like Arizona (Reid Wilson, Tens of thousands of voters drop Republican affiliation after Capitol riot), possibly causing them to swing toward the Blue for a long time to come.

Consider the Mormons who, according to a 2010 Gallup survey, “are both the most Republican and the most conservative of any of the major religious groups in the U.S. today” (Frank Newport, Mormons Most Conservative Major Religious Group in U.S.) — more Republican and conservative than white Evangelicals? Dang! Yet Mormon partisanship was already weakening by then: “Mormon support for the Republican ticket dropped from 80 percent in 2004 and 78 percent in 2012, to 61 percent in 2016, even as most other Christians moved further to the right, according to Pew” (Alex Thompson & Laura Barrón-López, Mormons rejected Trump as blasphemous. Now he likely can’t win without them.), although not entirely true as many Christian groups have moved left in recent years, the main exception being white Evangelicals — the latter being a key element of the ‘Ferengi’ minority demographic (Polarization Between the Majority and Minority). By the way, the Mormon vote has played a pivotal role in swing states like Arizona that lost more 10,000 Republicans, which might be why Joe Biden flipped that once stalwart Republican state.

So, the Republican base becomes smaller and narrower, louder and more threatening — the ‘Ferengi’ fringe. That is combined with the realignment that happened over the past half century, with the GOP now having taken the rightward path to its furthest endpoint, over a cliff. In living memory, there once was a large wing involving a combination of black Republicans and log cabin Republicans, progressive Republicans and liberal Republicans; even pro-choice Republicans. The last remnants of this held on into the ’80s, until they were squeezed out by the changes of media deregulation, ideological polarization, and rabid partisanship. Before that happened, the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan used to include the likes of Hillary Clinton, Arriana Huffington, Thomas Frank, Cenk Uygur, etc — major names now in the Democratic Party or in leftist alternative media.

The religious right ‘moral majority’ always was a myth — even limiting it to the religious, such demographics have always been mixed and often holding views different from the religious minority of white Evangelcals. This is the reason for the necessity of the Wirthlin effect and symbolic conservatism, specifically the powerful wedge of the culture wars, as Americans are operationally liberal (i.e., actual positions and policies supported). Republicans couldn’t win elections without this rhetorical con game. The very people promoting the claim of a right-wing ‘moral majority’ knew they were lying. Rather than being a majority, it was explicitly anti-majoritarian. That was the whole point, to use empty rhetoric and political power to force a false narrative, to win by havng declared that they’d already won and then having convinced the media and political elites to repeat this spin — with some help from FBI’s COINELPRO that silenced opposition in the decimation of the political left, such as the assassination of Fred Hampton (combined with the string of other assassinations: MLK and Malcolm X, JFK and RFK).

Bill Moyers, in discussng how the Republicans took over through anti-democratic tactics like gerrymandering, gives a bit of historical background to the “founding of the Moral Majority” (as part of an interview of Davd Daley, Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free). “Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them. And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today.”

Moyers then shared “a brief excerpt” of his speech and added that, “It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.” Weyrich, without shame or a sense of hypocrisy, stated: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” This was part of the Republican rhetorical attack on government in order to take over government, based on a demented ideology that democratic governance, public good, and the social compact were irrelevant or worse than irrelevant, a threat to their aspirations of unrepresentative power.

Trump’s personality cult, in gaining the zealous support of white Evangelicals, is the culmination of this dark faith; and it may seem to be going down in flames. Nonetheless, this might not mean the GOP is in terminal decline; but it guarantees that, if it survives, it will be radicially and permanently transformed — that brief period of a coherent conservative movement (or rather it’s rhetorical narrative as portrayed in corporate media) won’t be coming back anytime soon, if ever. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, under threat of censure by some Nebraskan Republicans, stated that, “The anger has always been simply about me not bendng the knee to one guy. Personality cults aren’t conservative. Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. Lying that an electon has been stolen, it’s not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion, it isn’t conservative” (Former GOP Lawmaker Now Dedicated To Fighting Misinformation).

Others, in having left the GOP, have also had harsh words. “The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I’d call it the cult of Trump,” said Jimmy Gurulé, one of those former Bush officials who could accept blatant lies, illegal wars of aggression, mass innocents deaths, and torture prisons but Trump’s Twitter tirades went too far (Tim Reid, Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult’). “If it continues to be the party of Trump, many of us are not going back,” threatened Rosario Marin, yet another one of these respectable Bush cronies. “Unless the Senate convicts him, and rids themselves of the Trump cancer, many of us will not be going back to vote for Republican leaders.” These Republicans hold to a nostalgic image of respectability, real or false, that once was taken seriously in the mainstream but has now been entirely discredited. Was there ever a time when American conservatism was not at least a bit crazy and dangerous? That is questionable from a leftist perspective, but it’s understandable why many conservatives long for a return to what they perceive as pre-insanity Golden Age, a time when they weren’t mocked and ridiculed.

One could debate what is or is not conservative or what it should be, but this isn’t the first time that conservatism found itself in the dumps, as likewise happened in the early 20th century. Then, following World War II, conservatism became respectable again (or at least put on a good act) because of Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley Jr., and that was carefully achieved by ruthlessly banishing the right-wing fringe and conspiracy nuts, even if that simply meant pushing a cleaned up version of Bircherism, racism, and fascism. The point is conservatism was once solidly part of the mainstream, and it wasn’t that long ago. Some argue that an honorable conservatism is essential, whereas when dishonor sets in it becomes perilous to all of society.

“I don’t think conservatism can do its job in a free society in opposition to the institutions of that society,” said conservative Yuval Levin, “I think it can only function in defense of them. And a conservatism that becomes anti-institutional looks like a mob attacking the Capitol, which I don’t think is where anybody wants to end up” (interview by Ezra Klein, An Appalled Republican Considers the Future of the G.O.P.). It is never conservative to tear down institutions, not even liberal (or pseudo-liberal) institutions like universities, and especially not public institutions. [Actually, an argument could be made that conservatives have always attacked institutions, in that conservatism orginated as a modern ideology and reactionary backlash in opposition to the failing traditional institutions of the ancien regime that proved their unworthiness by having allowed liberalism and leftism to take hold; and so conservatives sought to eliminate and replace traditional institutions, an inherently destructive act and, in creating something entirely new, quite radical at that; but we’ll avoid that complication for our purposes here — for more on this view, see posts on the reactionary mind and reactionary conservatism.]

In the prelude to Klein’s talk with Levin, a book is briefly mentioned — Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. It was written by a Harvard Political Scientist, Daniel Ziblatt, who “shows […] that democracies live or die based on how responsible their conservative parties are.” Klein says that, “In particular, the question is whether the center right quarantines the anti-democratic far right, in which case democracies tend to live and thrive, or it allies with them, in which case, the far right often takes over and democracies often fall. We are in that kind of moment right now.” If that is true, we are in trouble. Conservatism is inherently a reaction to liberalism — always has been — and so it acts as the shadow to liberal society. And so conservatives are closer to this darkness in either holding it in check or becoming possessed by it. The latter seems to be the case for the United States in this demagogic hour at the dawn of a new millennia. The burning flame of moral imagination as dark fantasy and ideological realism is powerful and, for that reason, potentially dangerous and destructive — as attested, again and again, by history (consider the Nazi conspiracy theory of Cultural Bolshevism and Jewish Bolshevism resurrected as the American conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism).

If the GOP is no longer able to pretend to be a respectable conservative party and can no longer uphold a mainstream conservative movement, then what is it or where is it heading? It could become even more of a right-wing reactionary party, maybe devolving to a third party, where its platform would be entirely defined by conspiracy, xenophobia, ethnonationalism, etc; maybe things much worse like fascism and eugenics. Or it could reverse course toward the progressvism of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower (or even Richard Nixon); before the GOP became exclusively anti-liberal. This might be more of a conservative, capitalist-friendly, and paternalistic progressivism as seen previously, but one that made room for liberal tendencies and democratic proceduralism. Progressivism originally was understood as democratic reform from within the system to defend against leftists, partly by stealing the thunder of leftist demands and promises, which was TR’s strategy (Capitalists Learning From Socialists).

That was at a time when liberalism was clearly distinguished from leftism, as reactionary rhetoric hadn’t yet fully conflated the two as a singular slur. “Many of the men who call themselves Socialists to-day,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt in his autobiography, “are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens well afford to follow” (see other TR quotes in Capitalists Learning From Socialists). His brand of progressivism was as conservative as it came, quite nationalistic and imperialistic, but he drew inspiration from the political left. To put this in context, the progressive era saw many Klansmen, Evangelicals, and Mormons supporting child labor laws, universal public education, Social Security, and much else — social conservatives and Republicans having helped pave the way for Teddy’s fifth cousin, progressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to create the New Deal and, following it, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. One can’t help but be reminded that Donald Trump won election to the presidency through explicitly progressive rhetoric that was in certain ways to the left of Hillary Clinton’s platform (Old School Progressivism).

Also, don’t forget that it was the Republican Party that introduced progressive taxation and defended it for a long time, at a time of extremely high tax rates on the rich. Also, Eisenhower said that liberalism was the way to run government, although he believed conservatism was the way to run the private economy; while Nixon spoke positively about liberalism, passed the EPA, and pushed for a basic income. We are presently experiencing a right-wing populist backlash with weak leadership that has splintered the political right, but we might return to that prior era of early-to-mid 20th century when strong progressivism and moderate liberalism was considered the framework for both parties, the center of the politcal spectrum, and the moral majorty of public opinion. Conservatism existed back then as well, but it was chastened and moderate, forced into a secondary role in public debate and forced into making alliances. This allowed conservatives to do serious and frutiful soul-searching, the kind of soul-searching that many conservatives find themselves returning to as they’ve become homeless and out of power.

The Republicans will likely be out of power for a generation, assuming they ever regain power. That was the prediction of William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their generations theory about the Fourth Turning. Back in the 1990s, they foresaw a period of crisis, as they theorized typically happens every 80 years (in a cycle of 4 generations). Through destabilization or destruction, the crisis shows the weaknesses and failures of institutions. That was effectively demonstrated, symbolically and practically, in the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol building; an event that, if the overruning of the Capitol police had happened mere minutes earlier, numerous Congressional leaders could have been held hostage, injured, and killed (Vice President Mike Pence was being targeted as well); and it turns out that individuals within the institutions created to prevent such a dangerous situation may have been complicit in instigating, planning, and/or allowing the attack. That is a crisis that would’ve been hard to have imagined decades ago. What Strauss and Howe argued would follow the period of crisis would be a period of institutional rebuilding within society. That will be an opportunity for the political right to rebuild itself as well, maybe from the ground up.

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Further Reading:

  • To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party
    by Heather Cox Richardson
  • When Republicans Were Progressive
    by David Durenberger & Lori Sturdevant
  • Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
    by Michael Wolraich
  • Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP
    by Mary C. Brennan

George F. Will on Trump and GOP

“…this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.”

Ouch! These are scathing words from, among conservatives, a highly respected political commentator and public intellectual. Back in the glory days of the Reagan era, the Wall Street Journal described Will as “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.” Strong praise to match the following strong criticism:

“In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.”

Interestingly, he had a book published a few months ago, The Conservative Sensibility, and he apparently didn’t discuss Donald Trump at all. When asked about this, he cleverly responded that neither did he mention Doris Day. The implication was that the two were comparable in deserving no inclusion in a book about conservatism.

I suspect Will is hoping, after a period in outer darkness, the GOP might return to its former greatness (and certainly not the greatness Trump speaks of). He comes across as a Madisonian neocon, the school of respectability politics and paternalistic elites, none of which describes Trump of course.

The spiraling president adds self-impeachment to his repertoire
by George F. Will

A True Story

We Americans are trapped in a cage with a sleeping grizzly bear and a pack of rabid wolves. The DNC careerists hold the keys to the lock.

They keep telling everyone to speak softly and don’t make any sudden moves, for fear of being torn to shreds. When someone suggests they simply unlock the cage door so that we could all safely step outside, they calmly explain that the danger is real but that we need to consider other options first before we go to such extremes.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump punches the bear in the nose and flings his own poop at the wolves, while declaring there is no bear or wolves and even if there were he’d use his business superpowers to make a deal with them. The GOP sycophants defend his bravery in standing up to the libtards telling everyone what to do. Make the Cage Great Again, cheers some in the crowd.

The corporatist news media hacks, a mass of people between them and the now growling animals, with great self-importance fairly report both sides of the disagreement. Meanwhile, the morning talk show hosts halfheartedly debate whether bears and wolves are fake news. Then they cut to an advertisement for a new antidepressant: “Do you feel anxious? Ask your doctor about Xibuprex. Symptoms may include prostate reflux, toenail dysplasia, herniated itching…”

The American people huddle together in separate groups. With passive expectation, their eyes are glued to their smartphones. They watch videos of what is going on around them and scroll through their social media feeds trying to determine which side they agree with by liking the Facebook posts and retweeting the Tweets that align with their preferred ideology or identity politics.

The bear awakens from its slumber. The rabid wolves approach. The cage door remains locked. The crowd nervously shifts this way and then that.

Neoliberal Catastrophism

“It seems like there are an increasing number of areas where the discourse among centrists and liberals follows a fairly similar script. The opening statement is one of unbridled catastrophe: Trump is fascism on the ascendant march! Global warming will destroy us in the next x years! (I’m not making any judgments here about the truth of these claims, though for the record, I believe the second but not the first). The comes the followup statement, always curiously anodyne and small: Let’s nominate Klobuchar. How are you going to pay for a Green New Deal? Don’t alienate the moderates.

“All of these specific moves can be rationalized or explained by reference to local factors and considerations, but they seem like part of a pattern, representing something bigger. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Eric Hobsbawm for a piece I’m working on, but the pattern seems to reflect the reality of life after the Cold War, the end of any viable socialist alternative. For the last quarter-century, we’ve lived in a world, on the left, where the vision of catastrophe is strong, while the answering vision remains inevitably small: baby steps, cap and trade, pay as you go, and so on. Each of these moves might have its own practical justifications, but it’s hard to see how anyone could credibly conjure from those minuscule proposals a blueprint that could in any way be commensurate with the scale of the problem that’s just been mooted, whether it be Trump or climate change.

“I wonder if there is any precedent for this in history. You’ve had ages of catastrophe before, where politicians and intellectuals imagined the deluge and either felt helpless before it or responded with the most cataclysmic and outlandish utopias or dystopias of their own. What seems different today is how the imagination of catastrophe is coupled with this bizarre confidence in moderation and perverse belief in the margin.

“Neoliberal catastrophism?”

From Progressivism to Neoconservatism

In the above video, the beginning discussion about Franklin Delano Roosevelt is quite significant. He didn’t just seek to boost the economy by increasing employment and promoting consumerism. The rise of early progressivism, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt and continuing with FDR, was tied up with corporatism, militarism, imperialism, expansionism, and racism. TR was famously bigoted and xenophobic but so was FDR. Both needed to get the support of Southern racists and working class whites. Progressivism sought to make America a great nation that would compete globally, both in terms of economic success and military power. Progressivism was America first on steroids. And that America was very much a white America.

Some of those early progressives, specifically Jews in support of Israeli Zionism, started the neocon movement and switched to the GOP. They maintained the progressive vision of a powerful free society (at least, free for whites) and combined it with a cold war mentality of theocratic-slanted capitalist realism, which was used to further exacerbate the Anglo-American strain of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. This is where Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism came from, as he always admired FDR. And that confident optimism was easily brought in line with nationalist bravado. Like progressivism, neoconservatism wasn’t isolationist but quite the opposite.

The neocons complained about government and welfare, but they pushed for big spending, military buildup, corporate subsidies, and nation building. Reagan raised taxes more than he cut them while expanding the number of federal jobs, all of which was done with a conservative majority in Congress. They wanted a new expression of progressivism by different means. At the same time, Democrats almost entirely gave up on progressivism and, in its place, took up a status quo pseudo-liberalism (often in the form of neoliberalism). This gave the neocons free reign to more fully co-opt the progressive worldview while subverting it to ever more reactionary ideology.

The Roosevelts had a genuine sense of paternalistic noblesse oblige, that is to say with great power comes great responsibility. TR, as a conservative progressive, hated the radical left-wing. Yet TR argued that socialists were right in the problems they brought up and that those problems needed to be taken care of or else the public would vote for socialists. FDR, although a liberal progressive, also wasn’t friendly toward the radical left-wing which is why he became the most union-busting president in US history, before and since. But like the trust-busting TR, neither was FDR fond of monopolistic and oligopolistic corporations.

Corporatism was promoted by FDR giving out corporate subsidies (the origin of big ag). It was intended to bring big biz into alignment with big gov, with the latter calling the shots. The goal was to place labor and business under a common cause of economic and social progress, a strategy that competed with the then popular fascist and ethno-nationalist ideology of an organized society. Fascism was a much more feared threat than communism at the time. Soft corporatism kept in check by social democracy seemed like a decent compromise, considering the alternative as seen in other countries.

The neocons later sought to reverse this progressive formula by creating inverted totalitarianism where big biz gained the upper hand over big gov, through various methods: corporate personhood, big biz media consolidation, propagandistic right-wing think tanks, astroturf front groups and fake movements, lobbyist power, indirect bribery, revolving door politics, regulatory capture, no-bid contracts, privatization, defunding of public education, etc. It was corporatism turned on its head and no longer serving the public good, not even for most whites. This co-opted corporatism bypassed standard fascism and went straight to corporate rule. That is how paternalistic progressivism became full-blown plutocracy. The Reagan neocons were able to sell this using a number of rhetorical tactics and political maneuvers: Starve the Beast and Two Santa Claus theory, Supply Side Voodoo Reaganomics and Trickle Down promises to float all boats.

The Clinton Democrats, building off of Jimmy Carter’s austerity-minded pre-Reaganomics (along with Carter’s anti-welfare and anti-union politics), then played into this confused push toward the right-wing. Bush and Obama helped to further establish the reactionary neoconservatism in the post-9/11 world, always with dashes of neoliberal ‘free’ trade bullshit — the two parties falling ever more into lockstep. As FDR was more union-busting than any other president, Obama was the most immigrant deporting of any president, not even the present president yet outdoing Obama’s anti-immigrant accomplishments. And this dominant paradigm of mutated ideology is what set the stage for yet another demagogue using progressive rhetoric to win the presidency, which brings us to Trump riding a populist backlash into power.

Trump was able to successfully manipulate trends that had been developing for more than a century. And Hillary Clinton had no alternative to offer because she was fully entrenched in the establishment worldview. The brilliance of Trump, by way of Steve Bannon, was to combine early 20th century progressive rhetoric with early 20th century isolationist rhetoric, and that proved to be a potent mix. But this mix was only possible because of the growing bipartisan racism that was able to lock together old school progressivism and isolationism, a strange brew of optimistic promise and fear-mongering, hope and hate.

Here is what changed. Paternalistic technocracy has long been the ideal of the ruling elite of both parties. It goes back to the claims of an enlightened aristocracy from early American politics. The early progressives followed more closely the view of an enlightened aristocracy. That is what the Roosevelt family represented. They didn’t deserve power because they were from a business family but because they promised to use their inherited power and privilege toward the public good.

The neocons, in cahoots with the pseudo-libertarians, came to argue that the optimal technocrat to rule the country should be a businessman (sometimes combined with the utopian night watchman state, a government without need of governance). That capitalist class elitism has finally been fulfilled by Trump, a man who has styled himself as a successful businessman. According to the neocons, only someone like Trump could solve the country’s problems. They finally got what they wanted. But the reality is that Trump is as much a product of inherited wealth as the rest: the Bush family, the Kennedy family, and the Roosevelt family (while other politicians have to suck up to this plutocratic aristocracy to gain access to wealth and power). Trump would be deemed a failed businessman in terms of a functioning free market which of course doesn’t exist, even as he is a symbolic representative of success within present capitalist realism (i.e., actual functioning capitalism), which is to say plutocratic cronyism wielding power through oligarchy. His wealth was not the product of meritocracy, if we assume that meritocracy is based on the concept of genuine earned merit.

The neocons have pushed plutocracy under the guise of deceptive rhetoric. Sure, there was always a dark element going back to the beginnings of progressivism. But the Roosevelts could never have dreamed this is what would become of the progressive tradition. They avoided the extremes of authoritarianism in their own era, but in the process they helped to give birth to a new and even more threatening monster. This neocon neo-imperialism as global superpower, at this point, would likely require a global revolution for it to be dismantled. Paternalistic noblesse oblige has long been thrown aside. In the void left behind, obscene wealth and brute power has become its own justification.

Yet the memory of old school progressivism, faint and distorted as it may be, still holds the public imagination. The progressive label, as polls show, has gained favor among the majority of Americans. Bernie Sanders being the most popular political leader at present demonstrates this. If another strong and inspiring Roosevelt-style candidate comes along, he or she would be able to take the presidency by storm. That is what the plutocracy fears the most.

* * *

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

Old School Progressivism

The Moderate Republicans of the Democratic Party

“I don’t know that there are a lot of Cubans or Venezuelans, Americans who believe that. The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
~Barack Obama, 2012 interview (via DarkSkintDostoyevsky)

Not just a moderate but a moderate Republican. His argument was that GOP has moved so far right that he is now holding what was once a standard position among Republicans.

This is supported by his having continued Bush era policies, further legalized the War on Terror, and deported more immigrants than any president before, even a higher rate than Trump. His crown achievement was to pass Romneycare healthcare reform that originated from a right-wing think tank, while refusing to consider that most Americans being far to his left were demanding universal healthcare or single payer. Heck, he even expanded gun rights by allowing guns to be carried on federal land.

The unstated implication is, in order to occupy what once was Republican territory, that has involved the Democrats also moving right. But this didn’t begin with Obama. Mick Arran notes that, “In ’92 or 93 Bill Clinton said, in public, on the record, that his admin would be a ‘moderate Republican administration’. It was.” It’s easy to forget how that decade transformed the Democratic Party. This is made clear by E.J. Dionne jr. in 1996 piece from the Washington Post (Clinton Swipes the GOP’s Lyrics):

The president was among the first to broach the notion of Clinton as Republican — albeit more in frustration than pleasure. “Where are all the Democrats?” Clinton cried out at a White House meeting early in his administration, according to “The Agenda,” Bob Woodward’s account of the first part of the Clinton presidency. “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. We’re Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?”

To be fair, this shift began much earlier. What we call Reaganomics actually began under Jimmy Carter. This change included ushering in deregulation. From CounterPunch, Chris Macavel writes that (The Missing Link to the Democratic Party’s Pivot to Wall Street):

As eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide to President Kennedy, posited, Carter was a Democrat in name only; his actions were more characteristically Republican. He observes: “[T]he reason for Carter’s horrible failure in economic policy is plain enough. He is not a Democrat — at least in anything more recent than the Grover Cleveland sense of the word.” Grover Cleveland, it must be remembered, was an austerity Democratic who presided over an economic depression in the late 19th century. According to Schlesinger, Carter is “an alleged Democrat” who “won the presidency with demagogic attacks on the horrible federal bureaucracy and as president made clear in the most explicit way his rejection of… affirmative government…. But what voters repudiated in 1980 [Carter’s defeat] was not liberalism but the miserable result of the conservative economic policies of the last half dozen years.” (Leuchtenburg 17)

It was Carter who, as the first Evangelical president, helped to create a new era of politicized religion. He was a conservative culture warrior seeking moral reform, as part of the Cold War fight against Godless communism — of course, conservatism meant something far different back then, as it still could be distinguished from the reactionary right-wing. Strange as it seems, Carter was a conservative who wanted to conserve, although he didn’t want conserve a progressive worldview. His austerity economics went hand in hand with an antagonism toward welfare, unions, and leftist activists. New Deal Progressivism was mortally wounded under the Carter administration.

As fellow Southerners, Carter and Clinton were responding to Nixon’s Southern Strategy by rebranding the Democratic Party with conservative rhetoric and policies. There was a more business-friendly attitude. In place of progressivism, what took hold was realpolitik pessimism but with a friendly face.

Right-Wing Politics of the Middle Class

I was looking back at data related to the past presidential election. The demographic of Trump voters is multifaceted. First, I’d point out the demographics of Republicans in general, specifically as compared to Democrats. In recent history, Republicans have done best with the middle class. They get disproportionate votes from those with average income, average education, average IQ, etc. It’s Democrats that typically draw more from the extremes and less from the middle, for whatever reason.

I’m not sure how much this dynamic changed this election. There were some typical Democratic voters who switched parties to vote for Trump. And some other voting patterns shifted at the edges. But I don’t get the sense that any of this was a major issue, at least in determining the election results. The deciding factor in the swing states often had more to do with who didn’t vote than who did. For example, in Wisconsin, Trump lost fewer votes compared to past Republican candidates than Clinton lost compared to past Democratic candidates. So, Trump won by losing less. But it was different in another key state, Florida, where Trump won strong support among certain minority groups that helped push him over the edge; specifically, Cuban-Americans and Haitian-Americans. So, there were many complications. But it’s not clear to me that this election demographically veered that far away from a typical election for Republicans.

Trump voters seemed to include many average Americans, although Trump voters were slightly above the national average on wealth. With incomes below $50,000, 52% for Clinton and 41% for Trump. With incomes more than $50,000, 49% for Trump and 47% for Clinton. A large part of Trump’s votes came from the income range of +50 to -100 thousand range, i.e., the middle class. The only income level bracket that Trump lost to Clinton was those who make $49,999 and under. Trump’s victory came from the combined force of the middle-to-upper classes. Trump did get strong support from those without a college degree (i.e., some college or less), but then again the vast majority of Americans lack a college degree. It’s easy to forget that even many in the middle class lack college degrees. Factory jobs and construction jobs often pay more than certain professional careers such as teachers and tax accountants. I’m sure a fair number low level managers and office workers lack college degrees.

Among white voters alone, though, Trump won more college-educated than did Clinton. The white middle class went to Trump, including white women with college degrees. Only 1 in 6 Trump voters were non-college-educated whites earning less than $50,000. Ignoring the racial breakdown, Trump overall won 52% of those with some college/associate degree, 45% of college graduates, and 37% with postgraduate study. That is a fairly broad swath. A basic point I’d make is that the majority of Trump voters without a college education work in white collar or middle skill jobs, representing the anxious and precarious lower middle class, but it has been argued that the sense of financial insecurity is more perceived than real. The working class, especially the poor, were far from being Trump’s strongest and most important support, despite their greater financial insecurity. Rather, the Trump voters who played the biggest role were those who fear downward economic mobility, whether or not one deems this fear rational (I tend to see it as being rational, considering a single accident or health condition could easily send into debt many in the lower middle class).

Also, keep in mind that Trump did surprisingly well among minorities, considering the rhetoric of his campaign: 29% of Asians voted for him, 29% of Hispanics, and 8% of blacks. Those aren’t small numbers, enough to have helped him win… or if you prefer, enough to cause Clinton to lose, as the percentages might have to do more with the decreased voting rate this election among particular minority populations. Trump did better among older minorities and rural minorities, at least that was true with Hispanics as I recall, which seems to indicate a similar economic pattern of those who are feeling less hopeful about the future, although I’d point out that most of Trump voters were urban and suburban. Trump specifically beat Clinton in the suburbs and also got more than a third of the votes in cities. But because of how our system is designed votes in low population rural states are worth more than votes in high population urban/suburban states, the reason Wisconsin turned out to be so important.

I would make some additional points. Poor people in general, white and non-white, vote at lower rates. The poorest are rarely ever a deciding factor in any national election. As for the working class more broadly, Trump had some of his strongest support from places like the Rust Belt in the urban Midwest, although it is fair to point out that Clinton lost some progressive strongholds in what once was the New Deal territory of the Upper South that had been loyal Democrats for a long time (in one county in Kentucky, having been won by Trump, the majority voted for a Republican for the first time since the Civil War). Even in the Rust Belt, it wasn’t that Trump gained white working class votes but that Clinton lost them. There was simply fewer people voting in places like that, preferring to vote for neither candidate, some combination of not voting at all and voting third party.

All in all, it’s hard to tell what the demographics indicate, as there is so much left out of the data such as there being more to economic class than mere household income. For example, income inequality isn’t the same as wealth inequality, as the latter has to do with savings and inheritance, most wealth in the US being inherited and not earned. The lower middle class has lower rates of savings and inherited wealth. As for the changes from past elections, it probably has more to do with the drop in the number of voters in key places, but that surely is caused by more than just economics and related factors. Anyway, I’d argue that it really was more about Clinton losing than Trump winning. That is my sense, but I could be wrong. I’m hoping that a detailed book-length analysis of demographics comes out in terms of recent politics and the population in general.

This was my rethinking over what happened. I’ve already written about this many other times, but I thought it might be useful to emphasize the role of the middle class in this election. It’s interesting that the middle class has received a lot less attention this past year, even though for a couple decades the middle class had become an obsession of media and politicians. I’ve often thought that much of what gets called the middle class is actually working class, something pointed out by Joe Bageant. One could make that argument for the lower middle class, in particular. In the past, middle class was more of a social attitude based on economic aspiration, during a time when upward mobility was common and the middle class growing.

My grandfather who was a factory worker probably never identified as middle class, but along with my grandmother working as a secretary they had a fairly high household income which allowed them to live a middle class lifestyle in many ways: owning a house, buying new cars, regular vacations, saving for retirement, sending his children to college, etc. Downward mobility, along with worsening mortality rates for whites, has changed demographic and voting patterns, along with how people identify themselves and how they are perceived by others. The upwardly mobile working class a half century ago was more hopeful and progressive than the present downwardly mobile lower middle class. I might add that my grandfather voted Democrat his whole life, but if he were around today he almost certainly would have voted for Trump and it wouldn’t have been for economic reasons — more that Trump is perceived as a straight talker and that he uses old school progressive rhetoric. His children, my mother and uncles, are all over the place in terms of life experience, economic class, social and political ideology, and voting tendencies.

Demographics shift greatly from one generation to the next, often even within families. That is magnified by the larger shifts in entire populations, as the politics of individuals is strongly shaped by what is going on in the world immediately around them. And obviously more is changing in the world than is remaining the same. The United States is a far different place than it was when my grandparents were born a hundred years ago.

By the way, if your concern about Trump voters relates to right-wing authoritarianism, there is a key point to keep in mind. Groups like the Klan and the Nazis drew their strongest support from the middle class. That shouldn’t be surprising, as it is the middle class that is the most politically engaged. One would predict almost any political movement will attract many from the middle class. Also, it’s not so easy to pin this down ideologically. What you should really fear is when the liberal middle class (AKA liberal class) submits to the authoritarian trends in society, as happened in the past. Never forget that the Klan and the Nazis were rather progressive in many ways. Hitler rebuilt infrastructure and promoted policies that helped many ordinary Germans. The Klan supported child labor laws, public education, etc.

Don’t blame the poor for everything, whether poor minorities or poor whites. In a country like the United States, the lower classes have very little political power, economic influence, and activist engagement.

* * *

Here is some of what I was looking at while writing this post. The following presents various data, analyses, and conclusions.

Election 2016: Exit Polls
Produced by Jon Huang, Samuel Jacoby, Michael Strickland, & K.K. Rebecca Lai
The New York Times

The myth of Donald Trump’s upper-class support
by Michael Brendan Dougherty
The Week

Stop Blaming Low-Income Voters for Donald Trump’s Victory
by Jeremy Slevin
TalkPoverty.org

The Myth of the Trump Supporter: They Are Not Predominantly White Working Class but Rather Anxiety-Ridden Middle Class
by Theo Anderson
Alternet

Trump and the Revolt of the White Middle Class
by Stephen Rose
Washington Monthly

Angry White, Rich, Educated Men? Trump Voters Are Smarter And Richer Than The Average American
by Tyler Durden
ZeroHedge

Trump supporters are not who the media told you they were
by Ben Cohen
American Thinker

High Homeownership Counties Were Twice as Likely to Vote for Trump
by Derek Miller
SmartAsset

Financial Insecurity and the Election of Donald Trump
by Diana Elliott & Emma Kalish
Urban Institute

The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt
by Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr
Slate

Myths Debunked: Why Did White Evangelical Christians Vote for Trump?
by Myriam Renaud
The University of Chicago

About the Stereotype Busting High Median Incomes of Trump Voters
by Scot Nakagawa
Race Files

It’s All About Timing

In getting elected, was Donald Trump lucky or brilliant? I stand by my conclusion that the election was Hillary Clinton’s to win or lose. But that doesn’t change the fact that Trump chose that moment to run as a Republican candidate.

Maybe he picked that battle on purpose. It’s all about timing. If Trump had run as a candidate in either party in any other presidential election in his lifetime, he probably wouldn’t have been nominated much less won. Yet he positioned himself at that exactly right moment, when the Republicans were internally divided and the Democrats pathetically overconfident, both parties at a low point.

Once nominated, it was Clinton’s to win or lose, And maybe that is the reason he decided to run as a Republican candidate, knowing that the corrupt DNC would ensure she was the nominee. In such a scenario, he didn’t need to win an election, as Clinton and the Democrats would do most of the work for him in ensuring their side lost. All that he had to do was manipulate the corporate media to keep him in the public eye.

I believe in giving credit where it is due. Trump knows how to create an image and brand. He knows how to use and manipulate people. And he knows how to play the corporate media game. Maybe he also knows timing.

This also makes me think of Steve Bannon. He is definitely focused on timing. His whole agenda seems to be coordinated with his understanding of the cyclical pattern described in Strauss and Howe’s generation theory, as envisioned in his 2010 documentary, “Generation Zero”.

The question is exactly what is this agenda. One could see all of the destruction that will follow as a sign of failure. But what if that destruction is the intended purpose?

It’s not just about timing to gain power. There is also timing for using power toward specific ends. For those seeking to inflict maximum damage that will take generations to undo, if it is ever to be undone, this is the perfect moment to implement that action. Like placing dynamite in just the right spot to take down a building.

There are those on the right who, for decades, have said that they want to shrink government small enough so that it can be drowned in a bathtub. Maybe they were being extremely honest about that with no hyperbole intended. Maybe it wasn’t just empty rhetoric to incite populist outrage and win elections.

If this is correct, this would be the perfect way to finally complete the full takeover of inverted totalitarianism. First the government has to be put into a severely weakened state. Then plutocratic interests can eliminate the last vestiges of democracy and bureaucracy that, until now, have barely survived the assaults of big biz corporatism.

Don’t forget that Bannon isn’t just some crazy right-winger. Like Trump, he is a major player in the world of big money, having worked in the banking and film industries. He is a man with connections and influence within the plutocracy. What we see happening may have been in the works for a very long time, all of the pieces slowly and carefully being put into place, until just the right moment.

It’s all about timing.

Investigation Hullabaloo

I’m amused by all the constant hullabaloo about investigations. One side demands investigations and the other side tries to block them. Then the two sides switch places about some other investigation. But neither major party actually wants investigations. The establishment politicians and officials are ultimately bipartisan in their common interests in maintaining their privileges and power.

There is nothing stopping Republicans from forcing investigations into Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Even many of the investigations that were closed can be reopened at any point this year. The Republicans claimed they wanted these investigations. So, now that they have the sole power to make these investigations happen, why do they refuse to do so?

It’s simple. There are two basic reasons.

First, any major investigation is opening up a can of worms. Once they start digging into the records and doing interviews, extremely uncomfortable and threatening info could come out about powerful people in both parties. For example, it might be discovered that some Republican politicians, conservative organizations, and right-wing think tanks have donated to the Clinton Foundation (in exchange for favors) or otherwise have other connections.

Second, a major investigation would set a precedent. Once one powerful career politician is targeted, any powerful career politician can be targeted. If Hillary Clinton could be taken down by an investigation, then no one in government is safe from the legal enforcement of justice. And don’t you doubt for a minute that there are hundreds of politicians who, if seriously investigated, would be locked away in prison. And if we ever had a truth commission, our entire government would be torn down to its foundation because of all the scandals and corruption revealed.

They will do minor investigations, as long as only minor political figures are targeted and scapegoated. That is why, when some major political failure happens, it is usually bureaucratic functionaries that get sacrificed while their superiors escape unscathed.

It would require much more political breakdown before major investigations into government and politicians could happen. We might eventually get to that point, when those in the establishment are willing to turn on each other. But we aren’t quite at that point yet. It will have to get much worse.

The Comfortable Classes Remain Comfortable

I’m constantly reminded of the comfortable classes because of my personal situation. I’m a working class guy, but I live in a prosperous middle class town of middle class professionals. I see these people every day on my job and I visit my parents’ middle class neighborhood on a regular basis.

The world of these comfortable people has remained unchanged since Trump was elected. In fact, their world hasn’t changed much in their entire lives, unless they’re old enough to have lived through World War II. Even the 2008 recession didn’t have a major impact on most who were economically well off, other than maybe taking a hit in the stock market.

The Iowa Republicans took away bargaining rights of unions, but most comfortable people aren’t in unions (as I am; because of this change, I can now be laid off for no reason and with no notice). If the Republicans dismantle Obamacare, it won’t effect most comfortable people who already have good insurance from their employers or that they can afford on their own. And Trump’s childcare plan would actually benefit many of these comfortable people, as “70 percent of the benefits go to people making over $100,000 a year” (PolitiFact).

Most of them aren’t Muslims who will be targeted or immigrants who will be deported. Most of them didn’t grow up in poverty and so they have no family and friends that are still in poverty. The majority of them are white, US-born citizens who have spent their entire lives economically secure, maybe not always rich but comfortable. It’s all they’ve known and it is all they assume they will ever know.

They have little to fear, in any fundamental way. For most of them, their lives will go on as before. They will still be employed with good pay and good benefits. Everything happening in politics is simply melodrama to them. It might make them feel a bit anxious, but it has no personal reality to them. And if it ever does get bad enough, most have the means and opportunity to get citizenship and employment in other countries, as one person recently admitted to me. They won’t be going down with the ship and so they have no reason to fight as if their life depended on it. The lifeboats will be reserved for them.

Part of why this is possible is that over this past century, the US has become a highly segregated society. Most Americans in the upper classes (including upper middle class) and the lower classes literally live in different worlds. This has happened because of suburbs, bedroom communities, gated communities, gentrification, etc.

A large part of the population lives around people who share the same class, race, ideology, and party affiliation. This is particularly true for the comfortable upper classes who can afford to buy into expensive communities that isolate them from the rest of society. And the town I live in is a fairly expensive, especially for housing (a large part of my paycheck goes to rent alone, which I can afford only by not owning  a car).

These comfortable people live in nice houses that are located in nice neighborhoods and nice communities. They send their kids to good schools, either well-funded public schools or well-funded private schools. They attend wealthy churches, their local infrastructure is maintained, their kids don’t have high rates of lead toxicity, and they have nice parks to visits. Life is good for them and will continue to be good for the foreseeable future.

Trump and the GOP are annoying. But none of this is a personal threat, at least not for now. When these comfortable people begin to feel seriously uncomfortable, then they will all of a sudden start caring about the public good and societal wellbeing, assuming they don’t simply escape so as to leave the problem for others to deal with. Until then, they can’t or won’t understand. In fact, they have a vested interest in not understanding.

Trump the Train Wreck

If I was an evil mastermind who wanted to destroy the Republican Party, it’s hard to imagine a better possibility than getting someone like Trump elected president. The next four years will be a train wreck in slow motion. Trump will destroy the GOP as it so far has existed. That may or may not destroy it as a functioning political party. But for sure it will never be the same.

I had such thoughts back during the campaigns. It occurred to me that, once Clinton and Trump were nominated, this was an election neither party should want to win. Either was going to be a disaster for their respective party. The president now will get blamed for so much. And both of these people were severely disliked and distrusted.

There is a difference, though. Most of the people who voted for Clinton were simply Democratic partisans. They were hoping to save their party, even though pushing out Sanders did long term harm. The dynamic was different on the other side.

There are also partisan Republicans who held their nose while voting for Trump, assuming that he was better than nothing. But there were many other Trump supporters who weren’t partisan Republicans and they couldn’t care less if the GOP goes down in flames. They are a frustrated group who just want to be heard, by any means necessary. They might even take pride in destroying the GOP.

The GOP has a tiger by the tail and is afraid to let go. They might discover, though, that they don’t have the tiger. The tiger has them. I wish them luck, as I’d rather see both parties reformed than destroyed. The two party system has been a failure, but at the moment what would replace it might be worse. What we really need, if we were to be honest, is a constitutional convention. The system needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up.

If reform fails, as it seems it will, there are those who’d rather push failure to its inevitable conclusion of self-destruction. The same frustration and outrage that led to obstruction of Obama now has infected the heart of the GOP. The beast will turn on itself, devouring its own entrails. I’ll leave you with that pleasant image.