Following a primary that escapes all rational attempts at description, last week Donald Trump locked up the Republican Party nomination for President. Barring shenanigans on a never-before-seen level at the party’s convention, he will accept that nomination and the convention will serve as a funeral service for a party that should have died out years ago. Frankly, I was hoping for a lot more pre-convention fracturing of the Grand Old Party, but it looks like most of the Establishment have finally bought their tickets for the Trump Train.
Trump won this nomination despite a lot of very smart people pointing to a lot of very precise polling which seemed to indicate he couldn’t win. Trump won despite countless takedowns from very smart comedians and celebrities. He won despite being threatened by Jeb Bush with a beating from his mother. Perhaps most importantly, he won despite all of the absolutely batshit things he said about his opponents, his supporters, and basically anyone and everyone who is not Donald Trump.
In December, I pointed the finger at the GOP for engendering the sort of atmosphere that allowed a character like Trump to enter the race. At that point many of the professional pundit class were still calling him a runner-up to a more serious candidate. There was no way Trump would poll well (he already was) or get to the debates (he did) or win a primary or caucus (he’s won 32 of them as I write this).
It should have been obvious to the professionals that something was rotten in the state of Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina. After all, they couldn’t seem to agree on which one of the other candidates on the debate platform was that real GOP front-runner. Instead of getting clear on what they were getting wrong, they dug in deeper and deeper. Second and third place became “winning” and winning just one state on Super Tuesday became a “surge.” The denial of Trump as the eventual nominee became almost comical. As the denial faded, the anger began.
Who was responsible for Trump’s rise? How did he get this far? What does this mean for the GOP? For America? For the world? Pundits blamed each other, the party, the media, and even just the general population. But they missed one key group that played its own role in the rise of Donald Trump.
That group is the Democratic Party itself, and the lukewarm, third-wave liberalism it’s embraced over the last 40 years.
It all comes down to the smug, educated, elitist, professional class liberalism that replaced the New Deal liberalism of the past. The Democratic Party of the first two-thirds of the 20th century acknowledged the working class and the poor. By the 1970s, the Democrats either felt the working class was a given in their calculations or were no longer worth fighting for and began giving themselves over to the professional class — managers, doctors, lawyers, and others. The results, illustrated in Thomas Frank’s recent book Listen, Liberal!, have been disastrous — and they have led directly to the nomination of Donald Trump.
For years it was understood that the working class was leaving the Democratic Party and going into the ever-growing Big Tent of the GOP which had expanded for decades under the guidance of business leaders, evangelicals, and libertarians. The growth continued as Democrats not only failed to be good at explaining their policies, but also began abandoning them and, worse, mocking anyone who couldn’t understand what was happening.
After all, while we can safely say that it’s absolutely ludicrous for white people in this country to talk about how they’re being oppressed, it’s unacceptable that the liberal response be to point and laugh at them. One of the supposedly ultra-liberal, super P.C., post-modern thoughts of the past was that a person’s perception of reality is, in fact, their reality. In other words, absent any real threat to a person, if a person merely feels threatened, then the threat is real to them and they can be excused for reacting to that threat.
Instead, fueled by smug commentary from well-educated people who are the definition of the effete liberal that conservatives railed against in the 1980s, the fearful were basically herded straight to the party who spent decades figuring out how to weaponize fear.
Once upon a time, liberalism would have demanded that the concerns of people who feel their country is slipping away from them be taken seriously — even if only to help them understand that this is not the case at all. The country is not slipping away, it’s merely changing into something new — just as it has for eons. It’s nothing to fear, it’s something to embrace. But Democrats have allowed the working class — and yes, particularly the white working class — to run to the party that’s been screaming about the sky falling.
If the Democrats pay the price for that in November with the election of Donald Trump as President, they will have only themselves to blame. Unfortunately, for all the smart people in charge of the Democrats now, it’s unlikely they’ll see it for what it is.
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