Trump, Sanders, Populism, and the 2016 Election

I’m glad I ran across this Salon article challenging the notion that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appeal to similar populist constituencies.  Don’t both Trump and Sanders “confront ‘establishment’ hegemony and voice small-fry ‘populism,’ plus condemn bad trade agreements, job losses, and Washington insiders?”  No, Becker says:

Sanders is not like Trump or vice versa: despite surface parallels, they are at heart more like polar opposites. In the end this measure emerges: the unassuming Sanders presents people-oriented messages that widen debate and insight. Trump’s proto-fascist, wealth-driven demagoguery kills debate with deceptive, irresponsible war cries that deter thinking and enlightenment.

I guess I agree as far as it goes: the contrast between Sanders’ intellectual and Trump’s demagogic arguments are…wait for it…yuuuuge.  But I see a much more important difference: Donald Trump sells himself as the best player of the Capitalism game.  Bernie Sanders makes a case that the game itself is rigged, and the rules need to change. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Coffee

A few articles I’m reading over coffee this morning (Trump Will Never be President Edition):

Now that Clinton and Trump have more or less locked up their respective party’s nominations, the horse-race coverage will turn to the general election contest.  Since the media has an incentive to make it look like a close one, get ready for the “Donald Trump can win” and “Trump’s path to the Presidency” articles.  We’ll hear more about what an awful candidate Clinton is and all the baggage she’ll bring to the campaign.  Trump can pivot back to the center, they’ll say, and look more “Presidential” (whatever that means).  Much will be made of his record number of GOP primary votes. Continue reading

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Guns, the Second Amendment, and Politics in Virginia

It appears that guns and gun control could become a hot issue in next year’s state level elections here in Virginia.  Attorney General Mark Herring started the hue and cry when he ended concealed carry permit reciprocity with 25 states on the grounds that they don’t meet Virginia standards.  Gun rights activists objected one the grounds that it would hurt tourism and that no one can point out a case where someone from a state with lower standards had committed a crime in Virginia.  One blogger called it “slavery.”  They complained that Herring just wanted to go around the General Assembly to achieve a liberal result using an executive action.

This of course ignores the plain fact that Herring did nothing unilaterally. Virginia code – in a section passed by a Republican-controlled General Assembly – requires periodic State Police audits of concealed carry laws in other states. It then mandates an end to reciprocity with those states whose laws don’t include prohibitions Virginia’s law bans, or don’t have a system for rapid verification that an applicant should not be kept from carrying a concealed weapon.  Whether or not he liked the result, Herring had to take this action once the State Police reported that the laws in those 25 states don’t pass muster. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Coffee

A few things I read over coffee this morning…while watching the talking heads discuss Iowa:

Morton Guyton, writing at Patheos blog Mercy Not Sacrifice, discusses an ideological perspective he calls ” White Evangelical Nihilism:”

There’s a genuine ideological foundation for the ethos that makes Trump and Cruz so popular. I call it white evangelical nihilism.

When you’re told by your pastor that all the people outside of your ideological tribe are utterly wicked and deserving of eternal torture, that’s how it becomes a sin to compromise with your opponents politically and work together for the common good.

Everything about secular liberalism must be utterly antithetical to the Christian gospel and profoundly offensive to God. It has to be, or else secular liberals wouldn’t be worthy of damnation. So everything about liberalism is put into binary opposition with “God’s truth.” To believe in climate change is to believe that God is not in control of the environment. To believe that the government should provide for the poor is an emulation of atheist communism and a usurpation of God’s sovereignty. To promote “political correctness” is to silence the courageous proclamation of “Biblical truth.”

This tracks with a point I make when discussing today’s polarized American political climate.  Conservatives run on a set of existential issues on which there can be no compromise: abortion, homosexuality, taxes, and guns.  Two of these have their basis in religion and two in racism, but all four depend on the fundamental premise that only wicked, lazy or authoritarian people disagree with the right wing on these issues.  This is the fundamental American political problem we need to resolve.

Guyton goes on to reframe salvation.  Rather than a search for God’s help in saving individual sinners from themselves, he argues we should seek His help in saving other people from our sin:

Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Imagine if Christians, and especially Christian politicians, were known as the people who regard everyone else as “better than [them]selves.”

Read the whole thing.  Excellent essay. Continue reading

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Negative Political Ads

Chris Matthews hit Bernie Sanders pretty hard the other night on Hardball for his new Goldman Sachs ad, which points out that the firm recently paid fines for banking law violations that helped damage the economy in 2008.  The ad goes on to remind Americans that none of the people responsible faced criminal prosecution – though actual humans acted to break the law. These individual Wall Street bankers, the ad notes, get away with this because they contribute to political campaigns and pay huge speaking fees to politicians.  The ad does not mention Hillary Clinton at all – but because Clinton has a relationship with Goldman Sachs that includes both campaign contributions and speaking fees, Matthews characterized this as a slam on the Secretary.

Sanders has a reputation as a clean campaigner and has said several times that he won’t go negative in his race against Hillary Clinton.  After showing several clips of Sanders saying he’s never used a negative ad and won’t start now Mathews showed the spot and then spent several minutes making a claim that Sanders has changed strategy and “gone negative.”  Continue reading

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Moron Labe the First

This morning I threatened to start a new series – Moron Labe – pointing out idiots who carry guns but haven’t a clue about how to handle them and because of their stupidity hurt themselves or others.  This is a riff on the gun rights slogan Molon Labe, from the Greek (μολὼν λαβέ) for “come and take them.”  See this post at American Thinker (a source of true nuttiness, by the way) for context.

Anyway, I guess I can kick off the series with the story of Maciej Gorecki, who went to visit a pal so he could show off his gun.  While doing this he shot his friend – and killed him – with a gun he thought was not loaded.

Moron Labe – come and get this moron.

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Sunday Morning Coffee, Snowed In Edition

National Review stood across Donald Trump’s path to the Republican nomination shouting stop! this week with a series of essays by a who’s-who of the right-wing movement. Their argument amounts to “Trump is no Conservative” and it’s pretty rich coming as it does from the folks who basically created this monster.  Do yourself a favor and click that second link – Jeb Lund has a funny take and writes well in the Matt Taibbi mold.

One way the conservative movement has paved the way for a demagogue like Trump: consolidation of power through ignorance.  People are more likely to believe we can actually build a wall along the Mexican border when they’ve been trained to reject critical thinking in favor of conspiracy theory while distrusting our most basic institutions.  You can find a lot of good writing at Hullaballoo these days, by the way.

Democrats apparently also go after each other with “bile and bullshit.”   Corey Robin documents much of the atrocity of Clinton attacks on Bernie Sanders at Crooked Timber.  Note number 10, where Robin points out that the term “Socialist” may not carry the negative weight some people think.  I highly recommend Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind, by the way.

Speaking of books, a couple I’d like to read once I’ve finished Robert Reich’s book Saving Capitalism.  Kevin Kruse’s book connecting corporate attacks on the New Deal with the rise of religiosity in America, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, looks like an important read if this review accurately captures it.  And Jane Mayer writes to broaden our understanding of how the wealthy use their resources to influence public policy in her new book, Dark Money.  Alan Ehrenhalt reviews it for The New York Times here.

Finally this morning another armed moron has an accident with his firearm.  This one is especially rich – he felt like he needed a gun for self-protection in church.  Maybe God is trying to tell him something.  And maybe I need to start a new series: Moron Labe.

 

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Elections as Popularity Contests

I just read this post at Bearing Drift and posted a comment.  The author, Brian Shoeneman, is a Virginia GOP activist who has run for local office on old-school conservative policies.  He comes across to me as an establishment conservative who reveres the past and finds himself annoyed that Donald Trump, Tea Party activists, and other extremists have hijacked his Republican Party.  In the old joke about how many Virginians it takes to change a light bulb, Brian Shoeneman is the one holding the ladder and waxing eloquently about how great the old light bulb was.

Here Shoeneman complains that elections come down to popularity contests, and rational voters, who “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability” don’t exist.  As examples he uses Trump of course, but also Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  To be sure, he has named three popular politicians (though I would say that Trump appeals to a much more limited constituency), but he says nothing about the reason why people like them so much.  Charisma matters, but I point out in my comment that policy matters as well.

Since the comment is rather long and makes what I think is an important point about why some Americans seem to like Donald Trump so much I thought I would repost my comment here:

This is an interesting, but in my view rather superficial, take on the election campaigns so far. A couple of thoughts.

First, let me challenge your assertion that voters don’t “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability.” For starters, the chief hermeneutic voters use to select a candidate is party identification. Those without the free time to spend conducting detailed research start by assuming that Republicans and Democrats differ in certain fundamental ways. This is why the core attack made on Trump is that he’s not really a Republican, and he’s not a “conservative.” His opponents try to tell voters not to apply this hermeneutic to Donald Trump. So yes, ideology makes a lot of difference.

I would also respectfully suggest that your Clinton and Obama examples do not support your claim. Bill Clinton won the Presidency on some very specific policy proposals – raise taxes on the wealthy to fix the budget and health care system, energy conservation and environmental protection to name two – against a very popular incumbent President. Barack Obama also ran on a specific policy platform that included higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for economic stimulus and ensuring better access to health care and ending needless war in the Middle East, among other ideas. To the extent these elections were “popularity contests” it’s because the policies these candidates proposed made them…popular.

Donald Trump is popular for another reason: he has tapped into residual white (especially male) anger at changes in American society that threaten their power. He appeals to the Warmac9999s of the world by suggesting that American is no longer great because we’ve let in too many brown people and given to much voice to women. These people are pissed because they can no longer express racist, bigoted, and sexist opinions without someone calling them out. This explains the emphasis on “political correctness” and the fact that evangelicals support Trump – note that a key reason his supporters like him is that he “speaks the truth.”

Conservatives have spent the last 45 years demonizing government and any effort to create an egalitarian society. They did this mostly in the service of corporations by enlisting religious leaders and disaffected white men using dog-whistle messages (e.g., “welfare queens”). As wealth inequality has grown, women assert themselves more, and the country becomes demographically more diverse these disaffected white men seek a hero. Donald Trump is popular with this constituency not because he’s famous. He’s popular with them because the believe he agrees with them that Mexicans cause their economic woes, Muslims cause their security fears, and no one can say the truth about this because “political correctness.” Warmac9999 and his ilk like Trump because they think he’ll “make American great again” by giving them the specific policies they want: a wall to keep Mexicans out, deportation of Muslims, and government support for rhetoric that accepts racist and sexist attacks on people they don’t like. He’s not popular because he’s famous and on television a lot. He’s popular because he gives angry white Americans license to express their racism and bigotry openly.

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