Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Can Trump Change the Political Game?

A week ago I reflected on then President-elect Trump's attack on Civil Rights Icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). And I wondered if Trump could change the political game and de-energize America's third rail on race.

Then I got an email from a reader, Brad, who wondered whether we could get the warriors of race politics like the SPLC to stand down and recognize the real terror threat, or whether we are in for a "quiet civil war" that the left has already half won.

Can President Trump change this tune? Well, he is certainly trying.

The whole point about politics is that it is a fight between Us and Them. The only question is, who is to be "Us" and who is to be "Them?" That is all.

For the last few decades, politics in the US has been the identity politics about the privileged white majority versus the underprivileged minorities and women and LGBTs.

Now Trump is proposing to change it into a populist politics of the people versus the powerful. That is what his inaugural speech was about: the many versus the few. Also, he proposed the idea of America First. So he is promoting the idea of the American nation versus the rest of the world: nationalism.

Can it work? Can Trump change the rules like that, just 'cos? Well, I'd say that's the difference between being a world-historical figure and being just another politician. And right now, we don't know.

Think about it. Eight years ago Barack Obama was hailed as a transformational figure and given a Nobel Peace Prize before his administration had got out of the gate. Today? Let us say that our liberal friends are remarkably modest in their applause. Because Barack Obama is a fool and a failure.

Here are three grounds for Trumpian optimism.

First, I believe that leftist politics has always been a reactionary movement against the irresistible tide of the Great Enrichment. Its workers vs. owners politics of 1850 was plausible at the time, but has since been revealed as rubbish. The worker and the business owner need each other; they should be friends, even though the road to the middle class is a hard one. When the left's class politics failed, the left reinvented itself with the identity politics of minorities and women vs. the privileged and oppressive white patriarchy. Again, it was plausible, except that white men are not that interested in power. If you come to the white middle class with a grievance they will listen to you and try to accommodate you. Unlike lefties in the university. So the basic assumption of leftist politics is flawed. The bosses and the patriarchy are not like a political ruling class. They are just not that interested in power.

Second. There is a lot of talk on the right about the inevitable failure of multiculturalism and the mixing of the west with non-western cultures, nearly all of which do not believe in assimilating to the western limited-government, free-market, multi-religious cultural model. But I think there is a counterforce at work. The fact is that the social-economic marketplace of the modern world rewards people who will work with people and trust anyone that is trustworthy. Every barista, every store clerk, every salesperson, every cubicle worker is trained to interact in a friendly and helpful way with everyone else. And the more that each of us is immersed in this world the more that we experience other people as people and not as "other."

I think that the hilarious Case of the Intolerant Liberal on a flight from Baltimore to Seattle makes the point. Who is the nasty liberal? An obviously up-scale white woman. Who is the man she is abusing? An obvious middle-middle-class white Deplorable. Who are the cops that escort the nasty liberal and her husband off the plane? They are African Americans. Never forget that, while elite liberals are beavering away thinking up new ways to divide us by race and gender, ordinary people are just doing their jobs and interacting with other people according to the protocols of modern public politeness. And that changes things.

Third. Ordinary, average people want ordinary things. "Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves," said Donald Trump. So it is telling that liberals had a conniption when the new Trump White House took down climate change civil rights and Spanish pages and LGBT from the White House website and substituted meat-and-potatoes economic issues.

This crystallizes, for me, the failure of the whole Obama administration. The Obama liberals spent the whole eight years running down liberal rabbit holes like climate change, LGBT rights, race politics, instead of doing what really matters to Americans, which is jobs, safe neighborhoods, schools. You never know, but it could be that Americans of all stripes could warm to a president that keeps his eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.

I'm not that taken with the basic Marxist doctrine of the base and superstructure, the materialist notion that the economy determines everything. In the base/superstructure concept the base is the means and the relations of production, and they define the whole society. The superstructure, including art and politics, is derivative of the economic facts on the ground, the means of production and the relations between the various productive actors. But like much of Marx, the base/superstructure concept has a point. The economy matters, and it profoundly affects the rest of society. If people want to wive and thrive, they need to get with the program, and the program is the program of the market economy and its miraculous Great Enrichment.

And that is why I have hope that Trump can change the axis of politics from identity to nation. When you get a president that focuses on the bread-and-butter of life, people just might start to notice. And applaud.

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