As this is being written, a swarm of Democrats are vying to see who will go up against Trump in 2020. While there have been some calls for a bold Republican to try to primary Trump, this is extremely unlikely. Trump enjoys strong support from Republican voters and Republicans have long ceased to offer even feeble condemnations of his worst deeds. On the one hand, this support might strike some as odd. To use an analogy, imagine if you hired a plumber and they talked about their job like Trump (borderline incoherent) and expressed no interest or skill in doing plumbing? You would not support that plumber or be inclined to hire them again. One might say that this analogy breaks down because Trump is like the owner of a plumbing business—what matters is the people that do the actual work. While this analogy has some merit, it runs into a few problems. First, Trump has put many incompetents and grifters into top positions—so the picked employees of the company are also awful. Second, the majority of the employees have nothing to do with Trump—they are the rank and file federal workers who keep the country going regardless of who is in the Whitehouse. If they are doing a competent job, this has nothing to do with Trump.
On the other hand, Trump’s level of support makes perfect sense. Trump is eminently adapted to the political ecosystem that the Republicans created—he is a magnificent alligator for their lovingly crafted swamp. For example, the Republicans have been pushing the “liberal media” line for decades and Trump is hatred of the free press made manifest. To add additional illustrations, he has taken the reins of the bandwagon of voter fraud and has set aside the Republican dog whistle for bullhorn.
Trump, by chance or instinct, also fits perfectly into the politics as team sport/tribal conflict model. He “sticks it to” the other side, praises his side, and values only winning. As such, he is the perfect political beast for the Republican party. While there are some meaningful political differences between Americans, there is considerable agreement. There is also the obvious fact that Trump has taken positions that directly oppose professed Republican values: he is running a deficit, increasing spending, opposing free trade and so on. This indicates that political identity is often rather like being a sports fan: the teams stand for nothing, one just happens to have a favorite and supports it with unwarranted fervor because it is one’s team.
While Trump will win the Republican vote in 2020, he still needs independents and perhaps some Democrats to win. While some might entertain the wishful thinking that Trump cannot win, he has an excellent chance in 2020. First, the Democrats are…well…the Democrats. Although Obama’s people did an amazing job using technology and motivating voters, the current Democrats do not include such a charismatic figure and they are not as ruthlessly strategic as the Republicans (see, for example, voter suppression efforts). Second, the economy is very strong, and it seems likely that it will stay that way—incumbent presidents tend to get re-elected when the economy is doing well. This is somewhat like the passengers praising the captain of a cruise ship for the nice weather; silly but that is how people think. Or, to use another analogy, it would be like praising the captain of your intramural softball team because the field is so nice. This is because the president really has little impact on the economy; though they do have some.
Third, Trump seems utterly immune to scandals and terrible behavior that would be career-ending for almost any other human. Nancy Pelosi professes that the political calculus precludes impeaching Trump, so he seems safe there. In fact, attempting to impeach Trump would probably increase his chances of being elected. Not trying to do so leaves him able to run and also gives him a point on which to mock the Democrats. Because of these factors, unless the economy tanks, Trump is likely to be re-elected.
Mike, so in your view the Democrats had no role in creating today’s political ecosystem?
Isn’t that rather implausible?
Michael LaBossiere says
Mostly by getting their faceblood on the knuckles of Republicans.
Honestly, my first thought is: this is what people point to as evidence when they talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome. If you don’t see why others would say that, do please try to see it; it will help your argument, and its persuasiveness.
More substantively, your case is that the current situation is hyperpartisan, with Trump encouraging that – while not mentioning Democrats creating splinter issues, of course – and Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression without mentioning Democrat gerrymandering and encouragement of illegal residence to bulk up their numbers. I’m not actually convinced that the Republicans are more successful because they are more ruthless rather than that they are more organised, but I’m no expert.
I have come to recoil from the words “systemic” or “structural” because they are so commonly abused, but may I point to two issues that are truly structural: the US First Past The Post voting system that has been in place since the start, and the Federal dominion that has developed over time, but especially since the Civil War.
First Past The Post is effectively a constitutionally-mandated two-party system, since simple arithmetic makes it very hard for a third party to sustain a credible presence. It has the advantage of almost always serving up a clear and cohesive government, though Executive / House / Senate does help keep that in check. It has the disadvantage of requiring a lot of compromise, and so makes it easier for parties to clearly demonise their opposition, and for voters to follow their lead.
Federal dominance does make for a unified legal, fiscal, and to some degree cultural nation, but it also imposes chafing restrictions on the common sense in different areas. In particular, the local conditions in urban and rural areas make for clear divisions on internal policy. What makes sense in New York doesn’t necessarily make sense in Montana.
These two factors leave a very large proportion of the citizens, perhaps up to 40%, feeling that their vote is irrelevant, and with no reason to compromise and work with the other party.
I agree that Trump works in this environment to use it for his electoral advantage, but not that he does it more than any Democrat would; just better than any of the current crop can.
It has the disadvantage of NOT requiring a lot of compromise, and so makes it easier for parties to clearly demonise their opposition, and for voters to follow their lead.
“…this is what people point to as evidence when they talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
That term has been around a while. It was coined by Charles Krauthammer in his 2003 column, where he used it in reference to George W. Bush:
“…the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush”
While Krauthammer intended this coinage to be tongue-in-cheek, when taken seriously the term indicates a belief that some extreme criticisms of President Bush are of emotional origin rather than based in fact or logic.
Since then, of course, it has become a fairly common term – used in Britain as “Thatcher Derangement Syndrome”, and now we have “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.
I have an issue with the broad use of the term – especially here. It implies a kind of mental illness or deficiency (as marked by the “acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people”).
When I read a post like this, with little to no factual evidence backing up the ad-hominem remarks and (wink, wink) innuendo, my first thought is that this is what many in the general public actually believe, especially if their news intake is limited to the news feed on their iPhone or through Facebook.
The algorithms that drive these feeds are based on “What we want to hear”. When our devices buzz for our attention, we receive a healthy dose of dopamine in our brains as we drop whatever we’re doing and attend to the screen. “Trump’s Remarks Are Borderline Incoherent, As Usual” says the screen. And so we forward it to our friends or post it on Facebook so we can share that little dopamine rush, like passing around a joint. Our screens reassure us that we are OK, we are right – and that we don’t have to seek out opposing points of view and deal with those pesky challenges to our beliefs.
But my second thought is that this post is a kind of borderline professional malfeasance. It is written by a highly credentialed individual with a terminal degree in a discipline that requires expertise in logic and critical thinking – and yet, none of that is applied here. I’ve had this opinion on so many of these political rants – that they would be more at home on Facebook or other social media that claims no intellectual underpinnings rather than on a blog titled “A Philosopher’s Blog”.
An analogy would be to that of a physician, perhaps a specialist in internal medicine, ignoring critical research and extolling the anecdotal miracles of some new herbal remedy. And not by his own trials – rather, picking up on a popular story, believing it, and re-posting it in his own words. He doesn’t say that he’s ignoring the research – and the implication is that there is truth to his opinion by virtue of his MD degree. But enough of that.
From the post:
“imagine if you hired a plumber and they talked about their job like Trump (borderline incoherent) and expressed no interest or skill in doing plumbing?
Sometimes, some of my students will not understand what I’m presenting in a lecture. Of these, some will review their notes and do some outside research to seek clarification of my points. Others will ask me after class, or come to my office for further explanation; and still others will talk to other students or to my TA for help. They do this because they want to understand – even if they end up disagreeing with me they can do so from a position of power.
But there are always a few who just get angry and defensive, whose understanding of the class material declines over the semester and who do not respond to my “See Me” emails. They find comfort in their own grumblings, solace in finding like-minded malcontents who bolster their defense of their own lack of initiative to understand. And these students are the ones who, on the final student evaluation forms, write almost the exact same quote: “This professor’s lectures are borderline incoherent; he seems disinterested in the subject matter”.
From the post:
“it would be like praising the captain of your intramural softball team because the field is so nice. This is because the president really has little impact on the economy; though they do have some. “
Where do you get this stuff? Maybe you mean to say that the president really has little impact on the stock market, which may be true, but the economy?
It’s a common saw that the president gets too much credit for when the economy is good and too much blame for when it is bad, but the fact is that the president can and often does have a very big impact. Even simply by virtue of his appointment of the head of the Federal Reserve, he is indirectly influencing fiscal policy, which affects the availability of money for housing, business development, infrastructure …
A Republican president might use an economic downturn to bolster support for tax-cuts across the board, as did Reagan, Bush, and Trump. A Democrat president might react to the same downturn by pushing the passage of a stimulus package, as Obama did.
You can argue (as economists do) about which approach is better, which may be politically motivated, which might have deleterious long-term effects – but no one will say that these kinds of policies and stimuli do not have a direct and meaningful effect on the economy.
Trump has made economic growth and expansion a key part of his agenda. If you didn’t find him to be so “incoherent”, you would understand that the economic boom and reduction in unemployment are part of a multi-pronged approach that is uniquely Trump.
First, there was a $1.5 Trillion tax reform plan that dropped corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, and reduced taxes on a majority of individuals as well. With both corporations and individuals having more spendable income, that’s exactly what they did – they spentit – otherwise known as “pouring it back into the economy”.
Of course, you can argue about “evil corporations” and “tax cuts for the rich”; you can argue about how this tax cut has not been “paid for” and will result in a recession – all fair points open for discussion, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is your statenment, “the president really has little impact on the economy”.
But I’m not done. The second part of this economic boom came from Trump’s aggressive deregulation policy, which has cut back or eliminated regulations across the board. His rollbacks on Dodd-Frank have resulted in shares of smaller community banks to rise over 25%; the relaxation of lending practices has led to a huge expansion of small business – small-cap stocks have significantly outperformed the broader markets, which not only demonstrates the overall health of small business in the country, but has increased hiring – or, in political-speak, has “decreased unemployment”.
Beyond banking, Trump has also succeeded in rolling back environmental and other regulatory measures which he has often claimed were “job killers”.
Again – there is much to discuss here, and much criticism has been levied against Trump for these policies by all sorts of watchdog groups – but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether or not the President of the United States has an impact on the economy – and there is no way that this can be disputed. Will it last? Is it ethical to boost the economy by relaxing environmental regulations? Will the rollback of Dodd-Frank lead to another housing bubble that will inevitably burst?
These are good questions for those who would like to be a part of a real conversation, who are able to get over themselves and their grumblings and make an attempt to understand some basic political and economic principles and engage in some robust argument. Others will just refuse to accept that the president can have a major effect on an economy, refuse to address the failures or accomplishments of an administration with logic or critical analysis, and merely (as Krauthammer says), engage in “extreme criticism that are of emotional origin rather than based in fact or logic.”
My own rant has gone on way too long – but I want to make one more point. From your post:
“the Republicans have been pushing the “liberal media” line for decades and Trump is hatred of the free press made manifest.
Yes, of course. With the obvious implication that the “liberal media line” is some sort of false narrative – a mere talking point – and the “free-press” is a cherished institution that Trump would like to crush.
The problem is that the truth of that “line” has been profoundly demonstrated in the Russian collusion debacle that has occupied our national attention for the past two years. Ever since he took office, there have been rampant accusations and unfounded speculation about Trump’s involvement with Russia – treated by the media as a foregone conclusion. In an opinion piece printed in The Hill, Sharyl Attkisson issued an apology on behalf of all media to those involved in or affected by the untrammeled accusations:
“We in the media allowed unproven charges and false accusations to dominate the news landscape for more than two years, in a way that was wildly unbalanced and disproportionate to the evidence.
We did a poor job of tracking down leaks of false information. We failed to reasonably weigh the motives of anonymous sources and those claiming to have secret, special evidence of Trump’s “treason.”
As such, we reported a tremendous amount of false information, always to Trump’s detriment.
And when we corrected our mistakes, we often doubled down more than we apologized. We may have been technically wrong on that tiny point, we would acknowledge. But, in the same breath, we would insist that Trump was so obviously guilty of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet that the technical details hardly mattered.”
But as guilty as the media are for what they did print, they are perhaps even more guilty for what they did not. The Russians most certainly did meddle in the election; they hacked computers, they fed disinformation, they disrupted social media. They did this during the Obama administration. Is this not an issue that needs some investigative reporting?
The unfounded and now proven-to-be-false “Steele Dossier” on Trump was funded directly by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and used to exert pressure on the FBI to begin an investigation against Trump as a Russian “asset”, and the fact of the investigation was then leaked in order to discredit Trump. Is this not newsworthy? Where is the press? Over the last two years, there were headlines about “Bombshells” and “Smoking Guns” that would sink Trump once and for all – all designed to control the narrative of anti-Trump across the country – and almost nothing is reported about what may just be the real scandal.
So you can refer to the “liberal media line” if you want, but there’s a lot of truth to it. And a “free press” will continue to be a cherished American institution, but what we have now is not that.
But I will give you one thing. I think you’re right – I think Trump has a very good chance of winning in 2020. The Democrat party is fractured and disjointed, and has no political center. Their front-runner, contrary to their commitment to diversity and identity politics, is just another “old white-guy”, who is surrounded by scandals himself.
And you are right in pointing out that a strong economy most definitely helps the incumbent. Trump has successfully negotiated with Mexico to realign trade in our benefit and to get them to act on immigration (“Mexico is now doing more to curb illegal immigration than the Democrats”). His hard-line tariff threat against China is a big question mark, but if I’m right and it’s less of a trade-policy and more of a negotiation threat, they will back down and America will benefit – and if he is successful in convincing Jerome Powell to cut interest rates, the stock market and the economy itself will likely soar.
And the Democrat litany of criticism and accusation will have to give way to some kind of positive agenda that they can all stand behind. Otherwise, they will be reduced to a simple Marxian mantra as their campaign slogan – “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
(That’s Groucho, not Karl)
in a discipline that requires expertise
Not to pick a nit, but are you sure the word “requires” is what you were looking for here? All in all an excellent fisking. Such a pity it will be dismissed with little thought or consideration.