Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Jonathan Chait on GOP Long Game with Trump: "Long Historical Denouement of a Party That Has Come to See American Democracy as Rigged"

What's the long game of the Republican party with advancing Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, and in standing behind him? Jonathan Chait's valuable assessment:

Trump is an extreme event, but Trumpism is no fluke. Its weaknesses are fleeting, and its strengths likely to endure. Far from an organization that is "probably headed toward a civil war" — as the Washington Post recently put it, summing up a rapidly congealing consensus — the Republican Party is instead more unified than one might imagine, as well as more dangerous. The accommodations its leaders have made to their erratic and delirious nominee underscore a capacity to go further and lower to maintain their grip on power than anybody understood. More consequentially, the horrors Trump has unleashed are the product of tectonic forces in American politics. Trump has revealed the convergence of two movements more extreme than anything in the free world that may yet threaten the democratic character most Americans take as their birthright.

As he notes, citing Theodor Adorno, right-wing populism has revealed itself for many decades now to be all about "the fear of outsiders, and the veneration of law and order, as 'the authoritarian personality.' " Until recently, equal proportions of authoritarian voters were to be found in both the Democratic and the Republican party.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency has resulted in a mass exodus of such voters from the Democratic party and into a single political party, the Republican party, which increasingly legitimizes them and their fears, no matter how ungrounded, and does everything in its power to deligitimize the other political party — and the American democratic system of government itself. This will not end if Donald Trump is defeated.

To the contrary:

Trump will probably lose. That loss will provide little more than a temporary reprieve. The Republican-controlled House will be as conservative as ever, perhaps even more so. All the nice-­sounding legislative programs Clinton offered up to soothe her restless base on the left — affordable child care and college, improvements to Obamacare, ­infrastructure — will be dead on arrival, making Clinton appear ineffectual. Or worse than ineffectual: Republicans will crank up the investigative machinery and produce endless media coverage of ­scandals, real or trumped up. (In fact, as the FBI melds its investigations into Clinton’s emails and Anthony Weiner's sexting, we may be in for another Clinton administration defined by years of congressional sex investigations.) And then there is the likelihood that the current economic expansion, already one of the longest in American history, collapses into recession sometime during her term. 
Just because the conservative movement will face long odds attracting a plurality of American voters doesn't mean that those odds are zero. This year, Clinton has had the luxury of competing against a candidate who does not hide his grossness. In 2020, she will probably encounter a candidate who uses dog whistles rather than air horns and is trying to build a majority rather than a brand. Republicans won't necessarily need to moderate their plans to beat her in 2020. To compete, they may only need Trumpism with a human face (and, perhaps, human hair as well). 
And meanwhile, the version of the party that survives the likely wreckage of November will be a rage machine no less angry or united than the one that sustained eight years of unrelenting opposition to Obama. That rage will again shake the creaky scaffolding of the Madisonian system of government. Trumpism is the long historical denouement of a party that has come to see American democracy as rigged. And what one does to a rigged system is destroy it.

That Hillary Clinton will win the election appears not to be a foregone conclusion, per an ABC News poll whose results were released this morning. Either way, the American people — those of us committed to sustaining the nation's democratic polity and defending its foundational documents — are in a lose-lose situation.

Because the avowed, blatantly blared goal of one of our two major political parties is to reduce the foundations of American democracy to rubble if that party does not have direct control of government. And it intends to advance any Strongman it can find to advance this agenda, no matter how tainted said Strongman's character and associations. The Republican party will keep advancing as candidates for major leadership positions Strongmen of the ilk of Donald Trump, whose agenda is destruction of the American democratic system, regardless of how American.

And what this election cycle is showing us all over again is the extent to which straight white males (and odious gay ones like Peter Thiel) are willing to go in supporting such an agenda. If I and men like me cannot run things, expect me to burn it all to the ground.

The chart is from a PRRI/Atlantic survey whose results were published earlier in October.

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