Friday, August 26, 2016

After Trump, what?

Trump is going to lose the general election, although by a smaller margin than what the polls are currently predicting (my own take is he will be somewhere between 4-6% in the popular vote, and 180-190 of the electoral college). This much is already apparent for those with a functioning brain, a feature that sadly seems absent from many of the commenters in the political news of the outlets, like the NYT, the WaPo or the Grauniad, that still courageously allow their readership to express their opinions more or less loosely related to the pieces they’ve read. Yep, surprising as it may sound, you can’t scan the comments section of any piece of news related to the US presidential campaign without finding many guys -they tend to be mostly men, although there is some occasional lady- stating that no matter what the polls may or may not suggest, Trump is gonna win in a landslide come the 8th of November (they unfailingly take the occasion to fling some typically ugly epithets towards Democrat’s candidate Hillary Clinton along the way). As they say, haters gonna hate, and there’s not much common sense, third-grade level civility and a healthy respect for the force of facts can do against the willfully closed minds of some politically engaged individual (aka “low information voters”), from whatever end of the spectrum. Funnily, some of the angriest, more caustic and vitriolic denunciators of Mrs. Clinton are butt-hurt Bernie Sanders supporters, that criticize her -and surprisingly end up lionizing Trump, unsavory as he should appear to anybody with a minimally progressive sensibility- for not being revolutionary enough, being a “bought and paid for” puppet of corporate interests, being a status quo candidate, and thus somehow justifies voting for an unhinged plutocrat that in almost a year of exposure hasn’t been able to articulate a coherent policy on a single topic of interest for the republic… a story I devoted some space to in an older post (of HIllary's and Donald's prospects) but that has ended having much less impact in the dynamics of the election than I thought it would have.

Again, the result of the election is settled and foreordained, as the polls at this point in time are already clear and reliable enough: Clinton heads back to the White House, most likely the Dems retake the Senate but not Congress, and the only variable still in doubt is the margin of the Repubs defeat. It is after the morning of the 9th of November 2016 is when things start getting interesting in the old US of A. I think it is a fair assessment of the state of American politics to say that some old coalitions have disintegrated, some intriguing new ones may be in the first stages of formation, and some shared narratives seem shakier by the day. Starting with the first:

Bye bye Republican Party. Doesn’t matter if Trump loses by much or by little. The Genie is out of the bottle in this one, and the disgruntled voters that, who would have guessed? Turned out to be the vast majority of the GOP are not coming humbly back to the fold, tail tucked between their legs, and start drinking again the kool aid about free trade, small government, reasonable immigration, hawkish foreign policy (including an unconditional support for Israel) and low taxes (mostly) for the rich enabling a dynamic, unregulated economy that finally lifts all boats. The guys at National Review and the Weekly Standard are probably dreaming with a sound drumming of Drumpf that will cause an epiphany in enough millions of voters as to graft them back to their Country Club brand of traditional republicanism, but I’m afraid they are in for a rude awakening. The ideology they have been peddling for the last three decades (no kidding it always came back to Saint Ronald) has the electoral support of between one and ten million voters, and feels now as alien as XXth century objectivist philosophy to the roughly fifty million (41% of the electorate that will show no compunction whatsoever in voting for the Donald, assuming a low turnout election where only 50% of the 225.8 million people eligible to vote actually show up) that for all those years they thought they shared their political outlook with.
In the pundits’ mind, after Trump goes down in flames, those fifty million will be willing to embrace a more moderate, sounder conservatism, very much in the line advocated by the authors of the study conducted after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012. You surely remember: show more tolerance for gays and minorities, especially Hispanics (to be shown in legislative support for a “comprehensive” immigration package like the one crafted by the “gang of four”… man, this really reads like very, very ancient history, and it was only four years ago), propose something to replace Obamacare with to exhibit some concern for the luck of those not so wealthy as the party’s donor base, assuage the concerns of the elderly population about the continuity of Social Security and Medicare, etc. You also know how well that worked: not a single point of the “Growth & Opportunity Project” was followed through, and if it had been it would have turned the base even more rabidly against the lawmakers trying to enact it (remember Eric Cantor, insufficiently conservative for his own constituents, and duly replaced by a Tea Party faithful that managed the not too shabby feat of making him look like a moderate?)

So the GOP is, for all practical purposes, dead and buried, no matter what it tries after the election. They will nominally be in control of one house of government (congress), but their ability to even mildly influence any legislation during the next following four years is going to be zilch, nada, zero. They will still enjoy an inordinate representation in local governments (at State level), and that will allow them to exert a disproportionate influence in redistricting (thus ensuring a number of safe seats for their brethren… until they crack some more and an open civil war make those safe seats much less safe, more on that later on), but they will have all but disappeared as a viable political force.

I like to think about it this way: there will be roughly 225 million Americans above 18 years of age and with no criminal record, thus eligible to vote. Only half of them will really bother to do so, which gives us a total size of the electorate of 120-125 million voters. Thanks to growing polarization and self sorting 60 million of the potential voters, if they vote at all, will vote Democrat, and a bit less (around 55 millions) will vote Republican (although they are less, they have been much smarter in translating them into electoral advantage, especially at State level). Between 5 to 10 million are more or less undecided, and can go either way, or even throw their vote away voting for a 3rd party option. So of the 55 millions of the Republican “base” we know 50 million are going to vote Trump, because what the heck. They don’t care that the party elders have warned them that the guy is a) racist (so are many of them, thank you very much); b) a narcissistic spoiled brat characteriologically unfit to occupy the highest office of the land; c) socially unreliable, and with strong liberal tendencies; and d) economically a basket case, who nobody can define what would do once in office (be against free trade? Or for it? Against military intervention abroad? Or in favor of launching attacks in every country that crosses him?). They will vote for him because they are sick and tired of what they perceive as a rigged system that doesn’t care for them, doesn’t provide them with what is rightfully theirs (at least the prospect of continuously improving standard of life for them and those in their ingroup) and especially doesn’t show the hypocritical pieties that other politicians show towards those “outsiders” (be them immigrants, blacks, jews, homosexuals, Wall Street bankers, or college educated kids) that they conveniently scapegoat as pulling ahead and illegitimately benefitting from their toil and effort. So I find it very unlikely that those 50 million can be counted to toe the party line ever again. That leaves the current establishment with 5 to 10 million followers they can reliably count upon. Somewhat better than the Libertarian Party (although it may gather as many as 15 million votes this peculiar electoral cycle according to some polls, many of those would be more than happy to come back to the Republican ticket once it is led by someone more of their liking) and definitely better than the Green Party, but not by much.          

Hello American National Socialist Workers’ Party, well, I don’t think they will go for such a controversial name, but that’s in essence what a good deal of the fifty million voters that are defecting the “old” GOP in this election would end up forming. Let’s see what may be the defining features of such voting bloc, forgetting labels and their semantic charge for a moment: Ultra nationalism (to the point of jingoism)? Check. Racial homogeneity (which easily derives into racial animus against other groups where other races are more visible)? Check. Economic populism (autarchy as logical consequence of the denunciation of free trade, big government handouts to buy large masses of their supporters, state intervention in the economy to redistribute to the well connected, etc.)? Check. Authoritarianism and cult of personality? Check. Reverence for the “good old days”, law and order (disorder seen as a convenient byproduct of some demonized “other” existence, and thus highly conductive to the use of the state repressive apparatus against such other), legitimation of a militarized police and a strong military? Check and double check.

Look, I know my “Goodwin’s Law” as well as the fella next to me, but what the rise of Trump tells us is that a sizeable amount of the American electorate doesn’t have any problem at all with a very strong totalitarian detour. A lot of ink has been spilled recently about how Trump is (or is not) the darling of the alt-right, or the neoreaction, or of White Nationalism. I’ve been following those tendencies for years, and there are good news and bad news in that front. The good news is that the most intellectually awake between them have not bought into the Trump craze. They see him as just making it up as he goes, as an unreliable, mercurial, deeply flawed personality. BUT. Not much worse than your run of the mill democratic (small d) politician, starting with Clinton. So they may occasionally hack for him just for the lulz, just for driving mad the “Social Justice Warriors” and libtards and cuckservatives and the like. The bad news is that what this situation is teaching them is that they are not just a tiny bunch of geeky nerds typing away in the darker recesses of 4chan, 8chan and the like. Beyond the usual readership of the Daily Stormer (and of breitbart, and Taki) there are tens of millions of countrymen that are “harvestable”, that can be recruited, may be in even bigger numbers when a more astute operator, a true leader, comes to call them. They see all the flaws of Trump, his essential unsuitability, and they see what for them is an electoral success beyond their wildest dream.

So do not worry, Donald Trump is not the future führer of a reborn American Fascist Federation. After this election we will probably not hear much from him in a long time (except as a cautionary tale from certain orphaned conservatives of what supposedly happens when you stray from their increasingly irrelevant dogma). The next guy that comes after him, draws from the same well of resentment (social, economic and, yes, also openly racial) and is able to attract followers from the other side reservoirs is the one we should be concerned about. Because, as we are about to see, there is indeed quite a lot to draw from.

Be careful what you wish for, Democrats. Let’s then have a look at the other side of the aisle. The Democrats may rejoice for a while seeing the self-destruction that has visited their longtime opponents, and dream with decades of almost effortless political dominance in the face of such division between a populist wing, too extreme to ever attract the majority of the electorate, and a moderate one too impotent to ever attract again a significant number of voters. But how solid will their control of their own electorate be? As has been repeatedly noted, the Democrats have obtained electoral success (when they win in November, they will have captured a majority of the popular vote in six of the last seven elections, spanning almost three decades, no mean feat) by keeping together a motley coalition with very different interests, and very different outlooks of how the republic should be managed. Some members of the coalition are socially conservative but economically progressive, expecting a significant redistributionist effort from the state. Some are economically conservative (favor a lesser participation of the state in the economy and accept a high degree of openness of the American economy towards international markets) but married to some socially progressive end (abortion rights, gay marriage, multiculturalism, feminism, strong repudiation of traditional social mores…) and some occupy some space in between, are satisfied with some aspect of the status quo and dissatisfied with other, and thus would be in principle open to be pried from the  Democratic coalition and desert to the opposing team.

Specially when we look at the elephant in the room: race. Let’s break down the numbers a bit. We mentioned there were 225.8 million eligible voters in the USA in 2016, of which only between 50 and 60% actually vote. Of those, 156.1 million are White, 27.4 million are Black, 27.3 are Hispanic and 9.3 are Asian. For the sake of argument, let’s assume there will be 85.9 million White voters, 12.3 million Blacks, the same 12.3 million Hispanic and 4.7 million Asians. Of the roughly 45 million of those that will vote for Trump (according to pols he is currently around 42% of the likely voters, the core constituency of what only half-jokingly I’ve called the future American National Socialist Workers’ Party) we can safely assume 90% are white, which leaves 45.9 million White voters to be splitted between Clinton, Johnson and Stein. How many of those 45.9 do you think will not be willing to consider the allure of a more revolutionary, better organized party that they see increasingly aligned with their worldview and interests? Put other way, how many of them are so virtuous, so positively repelled by any whiff of bigotry or racial hatred as to never cross the ideological divide and end up feeling more comfortable with their authoritarian (but racially more homogeneous) brethren?

History has taught me not to put too much stock in collective virtue.  Eight years ago, even four years ago any discourse even minimally tinged    with the faintest smell of tolerance for racial discrimination would be electoral poison, and the association with David Duke (a former Grand Wizard of the Klan, no less) would have spelled the political death of any politician not willing to put one thousand miles between himself and the guy. Today, obviously, that rule doesn’t apply any more. In that sense, the cat is out of the bag, and we can only wonder how things may look like four, eight or twelve years from now. Let’s just leave it at me not being overtly optimistic…          

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