You Think You Have Troubles?
Liberals have been complaining for decades that people of middling means vote against their own economic self interest when they vote for conservative Republicans, but the Trump phenomenon shows that the Republicans have their own worries about this group. They’d like to believe that the formerly Democratic white voters who jumped ship in protest to anti-war activists, DFHs, and the desegregation of schools by busing bought into Republican political economics even if their original motives were cultural. It turns out, however, that the base is perfectly comfortable with New Deal-style political proposals such as single payer health insurance so long as some one they trust makes the suggestion. During last week’s debate, Trump even had nice things to say about the British Health Service and got applause instead of jeers. Obama or Hilary Clinton could hardly have gotten away with that.
Tea Party politics is identity politics, which means that a person with the right perceived identity can make points by appealing to the material interests of the base. In fact, in a competition between two candidates with equivalent white-bread credentials, the one who promises the most goodies is likely to win, free markets be damned. Jonah Goldberg wrote a book a few years ago called Liberal Fascism in which he made an effort to claim that the Nazis were a left-wing operation, an assertion that would have landed him in a Berlin madhouse had he made it in Germany before Hitler took over. What is true, however, is that right-wingers can and do appropriate liberal or socialist ideas and programs because a politics of personalities and machismo can appropriate anything. After all, in Tea Party speak, words do not mean, they signal. They don’t stand for anything specific, which is why these folks aren’t embarrassed by speech that strikes others as incoherence—Obama is simultaneously a Marxist, an atheist, a Muslim, a wimp, and a tyrant—because it’s not technically self-contradictory to call somebody both a mother fucker and a fag. Logic doesn’t count if you are using language in a non-propositional way, swearing allegiance or just swearing. If “constitutional” means what our guy says it means, who knows what can count as a free market policy, especially if I benefit from it?
What keeps at least some economic conservatives awake at night is the possibility that somebody may emerge who cares more his own aggrandizement than the protection of privilege, a Republican Huey Long. I’m guessing that Trump is at most the John the Baptist to such figure—I just don’t think he has the required stamina—but we may someday see Ted Cruz accepting the challenge. He has seemed determined from the beginning to become the Aaron Burr of the 21st Century and dispensing with neoliberal pieties would hardly be surprising in a politician from Texas where the line between left and right populism has always been hair thin.