Wednesday, 16 March 2016

On consequence

I sense that there is a prevailing narrative that Trump represents the failure of American politics. This twitter essay seems to sum it up (you may have to press "show more" a few times). Trump has taken us by surprise by doing away with long-cherished political conventions, building success on a foundation of hatred and bullying, and general unacceptable behaviour. And so people say that American politics is in a terrible state, if someone like this can do so well, if we've let him get away with it.

This view couldn't be more wrong. *Leans back into armchair, resting comfortably on a cushion of no political degree or experience whatsoever.*

Trump represents the failure of conservatism in America. He represents the failure of the entire right half of American politics. He does not represent any failure in politics in general. Most of the country is still ticking along just fine. Let's review:

Trump has won about 30-40% of the vote in primaries so far. What does this mean? It means that a minority of people - out of a tiny subset (people who turn up to vote in primaries) of a tiny subset (people registered as Republicans) of a minority of the overall population (all Republicans) - support Trump. In Nevada for example, lauded as a great victory, the man actually received the votes of 1.8% of voting-age residents. And many analysts believe that's about his ceiling. Everyone who doesn't vote for him loathes him.

Yes, the media's obsession is undignified and embarrassing. But other than that - we should rejoice in Trump. He has essentially no support. Only the most rabid and depraved like him. And yet he's exposed the beating heart of the political right. Not only has he handed the Democrats an incredibly easy win in a year that could have been problematic, but he's destroyed the credibility of the GOP for a generation.

But most importantly, he's drawn up clear lines in the culture war that has been raging in comparative secrecy for decades. He's exposed this war for what it actually is. For years, the wealthy have kept themselves in power by stoking the worst impulses of America's socially regressive libertarianism. They've encouraged people to vote on issues like abortion, gay marriage, guns and of course, hatred of foreigners. But they've done it discreetly, attempting to hide behind a veneer of acceptability and "conservative values". It's largely worked.

And now they are reaping the consequences. The divide between the two halves of American society, previously growing slowly, is suddenly ripped wide open, with a great chasm yawning between them. We are concerned that not only is Trump getting votes, but also endorsements or at least silence from "serious" politicians. But this is only true of "conservatives" and otherwise right-wing folks. They have no choice. They've created a Frankenstein's monster of an electorate that now either votes for social progress or for pure, white-hot hatred. If they're not going to become Democrats, these guys no longer have any choice but to appeal to the bloodthirsty Trump hordes.

But on the left, the man is universally condemned. Because the left is still relatively normal, and clearly any sane person can see that Trump epitomises everything awful about our species. The left hasn't failed. The left is flourishing. The left is gloating, or it should be. We can pick Bernie if we want. Or Hillary. Who cares?! We've got an eternity to have as many presidents as we like!

And in the middle, there are the lonely, dwindling voices of the "moderates", still sincerely believing that calm, rational fiscal conservatism is a valid ideology, as if it ever would have got anywhere without the mass support of bigots. Their eyes brim with tears as they watch helplessly while Trump bulldozes everything they ever worked for. And - slowly, ever so slowly - they begin to wonder if maybe they should have questioned the company they kept before now.

Trump has accelerated the right's long death spiral. They nominate an extremist, they lose, they suffer under the yoke of a country slowly getting better, more diverse and more progressive for 8 more years. In reaction, with numbers deteriorating fast, they become even more extreme, rabid and desperate, and lose even worse.

Ultimately, it means that the culture war is in its final throes. It may feel like things have never been worse, if you look at the quantity of hatred in the news. But these are the lashings of a mortally wounded beast. The good guys have won. It's just a matter of time now until the crazy people slowly grow old and are forgotten. The rest of us should celebrate, but then get back to work. We've still got a massive reconstruction project to deal with, and there's a lot of damage to repair.

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