Political Realignment?

Over the last couple of months, I have been doing a lot of thinking about President Trump and our country’s bitter partisan divides.

As longtime Civil Horizon readers know, I have mixed feelings about our new president – in whom, from a policy perspective, I see strong positives and equally strong negatives; my conflicted feelings mirror those of the voices of the establishment right – particularly, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and National Review. I would describe these views as not NeverTrump, but a distinct mixture of hopes and fears.

At the same time, the voices of the establishment left – particularly the “news” pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post – and mainstream (meaning: of the left) broadcast outlets like CNN and MSNBC, can only be described as unhinged. Their undisguised hatred for the president oozes from every article and verbal tic; with every pore, they want him to fail.

My thoughts have led me in the direction of two preliminary conclusions about what we’re seeing.

The first is that the hatred for President Trump on the left is based more on class distinctions – rank snobbery – and fear of political displacement than on fundamental policy differences. The second is that we may be seeing a real, long-term realignment of political loyalties in the citizenry that is frightening to the established political orders on both sides of the aisle (and may, fwiw, leave those who – like me – have a generally libertarian orientation without much of a near term voice in the nation’s direction).

The first is probably the more controversial hypothesis.

President Trump is taking many actions that irritate progressives, and challenge the notion – promoted heavily by former President Obama – that the triumph of the left is inevitable (since they see themselves as being on “the right side of history”). Where they are globalists, Trump is a nationalist. Where they believe devoutly that climate change is primarily caused by mankind, he is skeptical of that. Where they believe that the government should regulate, well, everything, he does not. He exults in appealing to their earthier former supporters by making fun of the absurdity of their politically correct pretenses.

These differences might seem to explain the left’s anger, and thereby disprove my first idea, but there are deeper policy currents that suggest that I am more right than wrong. Specifically: President Trump has cast himself as a defender of the entitlements that are at the heart of the progressive enterprise, even to the extent of asserting that he would veto a straight repeal of Obamacare unless it were accompanied by a replacement bill that affirms the right to coverage for pre-existing conditions – the beating heart of that new medical entitlement. The president has also made it clear that has no intention whatsoever of addressing the entitlement costs (mostly, Social Security and Medicare) about which those who – like me – fear for our nation’s future solvency, worry.

In addition, I have come to the conclusion that all the noise on the left about the president being a racist, a homophobe, etc. is as ridiculous as the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russians. Trump has a long record of being a liberal on social matters; he adores his Jewish daughter and grandchildren, and was publicly in favor of gay marriage long before either President Obama or Secretary Clinton. As to the alleged Russian connection, it would be hard to come up with a more anti-Russian program than urging the Western Europeans to rearm while freeing up the frackers who are bankrupting both the Russians and OPEC.

I am convinced that the establishment left hates President Trump because he is popping their cultural balloon – the sense of the historical inevitability of their triumph, the effectiveness of their politically correct – but practically obtuse – nostrums and the hypocrisy of their reliance on constituencies – particularly the lower middle class and the poor – with which their interests often diverge.  They got really mad when he went into Chicago and other impoverished Democrat vote-farms and pointed out what horrors Democratic policies have wrought on the people whose votes they depend on. Other Republicans hadn’t dared to speak bluntly to “their” people.

Trump’s worldview is a direct challenge to The New York Times – which presumes to sanctimonious superiority while catering to the tastes and interests an upper-middle-class-and-rich readership – and to the Democratic party, which has traditionally relied on support from blue-collar workers and the poor. That’s why they hate him, even though he is socially liberal and supports the entitlements that define the progressive enterprise.

Which brings me to my second hypothesis. The American political world is truly changing – and quite possibly realigning on a long-term basis.

My read is that blue collar workers have had it with the Democrats, and that large numbers of poor people may defect as well. Blue collar workers – at least those in the private sector – have concluded that the Democrats stand for open borders (i.e., competition for work from immigrants) free trade (i.e., competition from overseas workers), and high taxes that benefit others. If the poor conclude that they need a change from the War-on-Poverty programs that have mired generations in dependency and from public schools that fail their children (but reliably funnel union dues to Democratic pols) some of them may defect as well. These changes threaten the Democrats’ whole plan to eventually dominate based on changing demographics.

On the other hand, the upper middle class has been drifting toward the Democrats for years, and Trump’s all-too-regular personal boorishness will only accelerate that change. Trump may have won a majority of white women’s votes, but he lost by a landslide in my prosperous suburban town (which until not too long ago, had never voted for a Democrat for President). And the dislike and distrust for Trump in the upper middle class is not just a matter of style; these are people who, as a group, have bought into the progressive, globalist worldview pushed daily in The New York Times and taught as gospel in all our most prestigious colleges. They are not threatened by immigration or international trade; quite the opposite. The country club set – once the heart of the Republican party – went for Hillary.

I have a hunch that for all the vituperation from the left, and the drift to the left of the upper middle class, President Trump is going to win this game. Nationalism is a powerful force – particularly in uncertain times – and he’s not threatening anybody’s entitlements.

I have some hopes, and some concerns about my expectation that Trump will ultimately prevail politically.

Many of the things that the president is doing, I support enthusiastically. Cutting back excessive regulations, proposing to simplify our horrifying tax code, taking a shot at reforming public education, defunding the institutional left and attacking political correctness are all good in my book. I think Neil Gorsuch was a brilliant pick for the Supreme Court. I think there’s ample reason to reexamine the assumptions behind all the global warming models that have been over-predicting higher temperatures for years. I am generally pro-immigration, as long as the immigrants want to work and assimilate, but I have no problem at all with enforcing our immigration laws or maintaining a true border, notions that, bizarrely, have come to be seen as controversial. I distrust the United Nations and think that our allies must shoulder more of our common defense costs. So far, so good.

At the same time though, I worry about the possibility of a Trump-induced trade war and am terrified about the tidal wave of entitlement spending/national debt that is heading our way. Because of our changing demographics (i.e., our aging population) our entitlements programs – which were always, in a sense, Ponzi schemes dependent on ever-larger future generations of taxpayers – will create gigantic problems within the next decade or so; our national debt – which doubled under President Obama – is rapidly reaching historically unsustainable levels. In the absence of a serious effort to address these problems, I fear they may lead to truly cataclysmic economic and social dislocations – a Depression to mirror the 1930s, accompanied by riots by the many to whom promises will have to be broken.  Look at Greece today to see how entitlements programs just like ours ultimately come unstuck when the levels of debt required to make the payments become unsustainable.

So I think we’re looking at a realignment in which different demographic segments of the population switch allegiances. It pits an economic nationalist with mercantilist tendencies and little concern about entitlement spending against globalist progressives who also support entitlement growth and look to the state for solutions to every problem. Neither of these emerging blocks questions our nation’s (to me, plainly unsustainable) fiscal path. As such, in the long run, they may be seen as reflecting cultural variants of the progressive vision as to how our economy should work.

I’m not saying that differences in style are all that separate Trump and the Democrats – the policy fights are real, and important. But if I am right about our looming entitlement problems, on what will become the defining issue of our time they are on the same side, and both wrong.

At least, unlike the voices of the left, I’m not hoping for the president to fail.


M.H. Johnston

One comment to Political Realignment?

  • john primm  says:

    Dang fella, you hit the nail again. Being serious, this is a very well reasoned and thought through piece. Some of your best writing. Keep the f(F)aith.

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