Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category


In case one missed it, John Judis has an article on the National Journal website, dated October 2nd, “The Return of the Middle American Radical: An intellectual history of Trump supporters,” that is one of the best I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon. Judis’s analysis is inspired by a little-known 1976 book by the relatively little-known, now deceased sociologist Donald Warren, who coined the category “Middle American Radicals” (MARS) to designate the voters who supported George Wallace’s presidential candidacy in 1968 and ’72—the type of voters who, Judis says, supported Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s, and are Donald Trump’s base today. Warren, in Judis’s words, described the 1970s MARS as

a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

“MARS [were] dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected, [seeing] gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply sus­pi­cious of big busi­ness: Com­pared with the oth­er groups [Warren] sur­veyed—lower-in­come whites, middle-in­come whites who went to col­lege, and what War­ren called “af­flu­ents”—MARS were the most likely to be­lieve that cor­por­a­tions had “too much power,” “don’t pay at­ten­tion,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many lib­er­al pro­grams: By a large per­cent­age, they favored gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee­ing jobs to every­one; and they sup­por­ted price con­trols, Medi­care, some kind of na­tion­al health in­sur­ance, fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion, and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

But if these positions were liberal-sounding, the MARS were very conservative on issues relating to poverty, race (i.e. they didn’t like black people; and today, Latino immigrants), and law-and-order. And they were strongly nationalistic (thus the present-day allergy to free trade and globalization). They were also the voting group the most distrustful of the federal government, though wanted a strongman in the White House. On this, Judis writes

[I]n subtle and not so subtle ways, [Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, and Trump] have also en­dorsed a more power­ful ex­ec­ut­ive at the top. Wal­lace, who had thor­oughly dom­in­ated Alabama’s polit­ics, was seen by crit­ics as a po­ten­tial “dic­tat­or.” Buchanan, who had served Richard Nix­on through Wa­ter­gate, touted the leg­acy of his former boss. Perot called for plebis­cites to de­term­ine key eco­nom­ic policies—which would have had the ef­fect of es­tab­lish­ing a dir­ect re­la­tion­ship between the people and the pres­id­ent, thereby by­passing Con­gress. For his part, Trump en­vis­ages the pres­id­ent act­ing as the “deal-maker in chief.” In a 1982 es­say, “Mes­sage from MARS,” Sam Fran­cis, who would later ad­vise Buchanan dur­ing his cam­paigns, called this out­look “Caesar­ism”; it is also re­min­is­cent of Lat­in Amer­ic­an pop­u­lists like Juan Per­on.

Caesarism, a.k.a. Bonapartism, as I titled my post on Trump early last month. And continuing with French analogies, the French equivalent of MARS is exactly, precisely the kind of voters who support the Front National (père and fille alike).

Judis puts the MARS at some 20% of the American electorate and 30-35% of the GOP’s. It has been my conviction—and I’m hardly alone on this—that Trump’s poll numbers will decline as the campaign progresses and that he won’t go the distance. But who knows? I don’t dare hazard predictions on the GOP race. If Trump does fade or drop out at some point—which is no sure thing—I have been assuming that many of his supporters will shift to Ted Cruz. But in view of the Warren/Judis profile of the MARS, this assumption needs revising. In point of fact, if one looks at what the exit polls said about Perot’s vote in ’92 and ’96—and, in France, of the behavior of Le Pen voters in the second rounds of presidential elections since 1988—a certain number of MARS voters—a fifth to a third—would (or did) end up voting for the candidate of the liberal-left (US Democrat, French Socialist) if their champion was not on the ballot, and with a sizable portion—up to a third—staying home. So if Trump were to leave the race, his supporters would likely disperse in several directions, including abstention.

Also in the National Journal is a commentary, dated October 19th, by its editorial director, Richard Brownstein, that continues in Judis’s vein, “Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences.” Brownstein begins

The blue-col­lar wing of the Re­pub­lic­an primary elect­or­ate has con­sol­id­ated around one can­did­ate.

The party’s white-col­lar wing re­mains frag­men­ted.

That may be the most con­cise ex­plan­a­tion of the dy­nam­ic that has pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to a con­sist­ent and some­times com­mand­ing lead in the early stages of the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion con­test.

Both na­tion­al and state polls show Trump open­ing a sub­stan­tial lead among Re­pub­lic­an voters without a col­lege edu­ca­tion al­most every­where. And in al­most all cases, Trump is win­ning more sup­port from non­col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans than any can­did­ate is at­tract­ing from Re­pub­lic­an voters with at least a four-year edu­ca­tion. “It’s a chal­lenge to Re­pub­lic­ans that nobody has con­sol­id­ated the col­lege-gradu­ate vote against Trump,” says Glen Bol­ger, a long­time GOP poll­ster skep­tic­al of the front-run­ner.

In oth­er words, Trump is ce­ment­ing a strong blue-col­lar base, while the white-col­lar voters re­l­at­ively more res­ist­ant to him have yet to uni­fy around any single al­tern­at­ive. That dis­par­ity is crit­ic­al be­cause in both the 2008 and 2012 GOP nom­in­a­tion fights, voters with and without a four-year col­lege de­gree each cast al­most ex­actly half of the total primary votes, ac­cord­ing to cu­mu­lat­ive ana­lyses of exit poll res­ults by ABC poll­ster Gary Langer. With the two wings evenly matched in size, Trump’s great­er suc­cess at con­sol­id­at­ing his “brack­et” ex­plains much of his ad­vant­age in the polls.

The incarnation of the GOP white-collar candidate, Jeb Bush, is the subject of a comment Elizabeth Drew posted on the NYRB’s blog, “The Big Bush Question” (October 21st). When it became clear last spring that Jeb would be entering the race, I peremptorily proclaimed him the near-certain GOP nominee for ’16. How silly of me.

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In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

[update below]

This is not a post on last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, which is old news by now. I’ve tweeted numerous analyses/commentaries of it over the past five days that I thought were on target and/or interesting, so one knows—if one read them, of course—that I agree with the MSM pundits that Hillary Clinton was very good and Bernie Sanders too. It was a fine debate. I’ve been nervous about Hillary—in view of her high negatives in the polls and the visceral dislike of her by many Democratic voters (and notably on the left; I see gauchiste Hillary hate every day on social media)—but am now less so. I’m confident she’ll be a good candidate in the general election—and barring stunning new scandal or major, game-changing revelation in the email business, she will be the Dems’ nominee—and if voters turn out on Nov. 8th ’16 in the same proportions as they did in ’12 and ’08, she will most certainly win (yep, I just said it). As for Bernie, I like him and am glad he’s running—to pull the debate to the left and energize young people—but he ain’t gonna be the Dem nominee. Not a chance. O’Malley and Webb: I hope they raise their profiles and do respectably in the early primaries and caucuses, so as to position themselves as plausible running mates for Hillary (and particularly O’Malley; I can’t see a Hillary-Bernie ticket and for a variety of reasons). Before the debate I was hoping that Biden would enter the race—mainly out of Hillary nervousness—but now think it would probably be better if he didn’t.

One moment in the debate that attracted attention was Bernie saying that America “should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Of course. America should naturally look to the experiences of the Scandinavian countries—and to France, Germany, and other advanced democracies—to see what can be learned from them (and what should not be learned). And vice-versa. Politicians and policy-makers should always study other countries.

Bernie’s Denmark comment provoked the inevitable snarky reactions on the right, e.g. this one by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, which misses Bernie’s point; it is, as we say here, à côté de la plaque. There has, however, been one reaction from that side of the spectrum—and which inspired this post—that I find most interesting, “Double-edged Denmark,” by Will Wilkinson, who is vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center, a  libertarian think tank in Washington founded last year. Wilkinson seconds the observation by Williamson and other rightists that Denmark, despite its robust welfare state, has embarked on major free market reforms to the point where it is now more “capitalistic” than the US (a development Williamson suggests that Bernie ignores, which is nonsense). This is well-understood by anyone with a cursory knowledge of that country’s politics, including in France, where the Danish “flexicurity” model has been studied by policy intellectuals and politicians, with its applicability to the French context provoking debate, notably on the left (e.g. in the pages of Le Monde, Alternatives Économiques, and other such publications). But Wilkinson sees a symbiotic relationship between Denmark’s free market reforms and its strong social safety net that other conservatives miss. Money quotes

Right-leaning arguments about the free-market marvel that is Denmark cut both ways. Denmark shows us that a much larger public sector and a much more robust social-insurance system need not come at the expense of a dynamic market economy. In other words, Denmark shows us that capitalism and a large welfare state are perfectly compatible and possibly complementary. (…)

The lesson free-marketeers need to learn is that Denmark may be beating the U.S. in terms of economic freedom because it’s easier to get people to buy in to capitalism when they’re well-insured against its downside risks. That’s the flipside irony of free-market “socialism.” (…)

The possibility that generous social insurance can bolster support for capitalism is worth taking seriously, not only because the truth (whatever it is) is important in its own right, but because the truth of the matter could have profound implications for other libertarian policy priorities. (…)

So if one wants a bona fide neoliberal free market economy, Wilkinson suggests, the trade-off—in an advanced democracy at least—is a strong social safety net. It’s not every day one gets such insights from a libertarian—though Friedrich Hayek, who did not object to state-organized social insurance schemes, would possibly say much the same thing if he were around today.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias—who is no libertarian—has also weighed in on the Danish model (October 16th), in answering “9 questions about Denmark, Bernie Sanders’s favorite socialist utopia.”

UPDATE: Paul Krugman’s NYT column today (October 19th) is on Denmark.


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Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

I had intended, until a few weeks ago, not to have a single post on the US presidential campaign before the new year, as whatever happens prior to the Iowa caucuses is invariably overtaken by events, neither here nor there, and soon forgotten. I may be a political junkie but only up to a point. But then there was Donald Trump. Whatever one may say about The Donald, he’s certainly made this presidential campaign—at this early stage, at least—the most interesting in as long as I can remember—and it is, BTW, far more interesting than anything happening politically in France these days (not even this compares)—not to mention highly revealing about the Republican party base.

À propos of this, Michael Lind has a spot-on article in Politico Magazine (September 3rd) on “How Trump exposed the Tea Party.” The lede: “The proof is in: the GOP base isn’t small-government libertarian; it’s old-fashioned populist.” Money quote

The success of Trump’s campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party [which Trump has galvanized] for what it really is; Trump’s popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism. Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them[selves] and against government for Not-Them[selves].

Pour mémoire, Lind’s argument was made four years ago by Harvard social scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, in their (excellent) book on the Tea Party phenomenon.

Conclusion: The “small government” discourse of the GOP is a lot of hokum. It’s eyewash; as I wrote in my last Trump post, Republican voters, including Tea Partiers, don’t care about the size of government, as rightist pollster Frank Luntz said himself 2½ years back. They just don’t want government benefits going to the “wrong” people.

On the GOP’s Trump conundrum not being Trump himself but rather those Republicans who support him, see MoJo’s David Corn (September 3rd), “The GOP’s problem is not Donald Trump: It’s their voters.” See as well NYT contributing op-ed writer Thomas B. Edsall examine “What Trump understands about Republicans.” Edsall thus begins

Donald Trump’s success is no surprise. The public and the press have focused on his defiant rejection of mannerly rhetoric, his putting into words of what others think privately. But the more important truth is that a half-century of Republican policies on race and immigration have made the party the home of an often angry and resentful white constituency — a constituency that is now politically mobilized in the face of demographic upheaval. (…)

Trump is going directly after those Republican voters who seek to protect what some scholars call “compositional amenities” – the comfort of a common religion and language, mutually shared traditions, and the minimization of cultural conflict.

The territory Trump has ventured onto is fertile ground for his brand of demagoguery. (…)

Transfer this to France and you have the hardcore base of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party down to a tee: a base that has been pulling France’s mainstream conservative party further to the right for the past decade and that Sarkozy strives to flatter and indulge… And then there’s Marine Le Pen, whom Sarkozy strives to mimic…

The Trump phenomenon is not only a hard right one, though. Christopher Caldwell, the unhackish senior editor of the otherwise Republican party hack rag TWS, has an interesting report (September 7th issue) from the campaign trail in Iowa, in which he asks “What’s the deal with the Trump?” Entre autres, Caldwell observes that a certain number of those who have attended Trump rallies and otherwise shown an interest in his candidacy are independents and even Democratic party voters, c’est-à-dire, Trump is not only attracting support from the Tea Party/hard right GOP base. His appeal goes well beyond that.

Caldwell makes a number of valid points, one of them this

One might compare Trump’s rise to the anti-immigrant populisms on the rise in Europe, but the parallel is deceptive. European immigration, unlike American, appears to be turning into an outright military threat [AWAV: this is nonsense]. The parties that focus on it often are suspicious of the European Union and have ideological affinities with old right-wing movements. Whatever one thinks of Trump, he is not an ideologue. (“I’m fine with affirmative action,” he recently told the Los Angeles Times.) The European radicals he most resembles are those freelances who combined (or combine) truth-telling and piss-taking: the Dutch firebrand Pim Fortuyn, assassinated on the eve of the 2002 elections, the radio host and UKIP leader Robert Kilroy-Silk, who rose and quickly fell two years later, the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, who still leads the Five-Star Movement.

In French terms, I’ve said it before and will say it again: Trump is a mix of Nicolas Sarkozy (for the brutality of his political persona, rank demagoguery, absence of core principles or morality, and careening all over the right side of the political spectrum in changing his positions on a dime), Jean-Marie Le Pen (for his flamboyant, megalomaniacal macho showmanship and oratory, brutal personal style, and general demagoguery, particularly on immigration), and Bernard Tapie (the brash, flamboyant businessman and TV entertainer dabbling in politics—from center-left to center-right—to further his ego and personal interest, and who, like his pal Sarkozy, is devoid of principles and morality).

Continuing with French parallels, the Trump phenomenon may perhaps be viewed as less Tea Partyish or reactionary than a sort of downmarket Bonapartism à l’américaine: a providential, nationalist, charismatic strongman leader who is generically conservative but devoid of ideology—there’s no fascism here or doctrinal rupture with the existing order—whose positions can lurch from the far-right to the almost center-left, and whose appeal consists entirely of his outsized persona and promise to uphold or restore national grandeur (the Bonapartist strain on the French right was, in the 20th century, incarnated by Charles de Gaulle but I won’t insult the great general’s memory by equating Trump with him). And there’s not a shred of libertarianism or “small government” blather in it.

MoJo blogger Kevin Drum has a post (September 5th) telling conservatives “Sorry…you deserve Donald Trump” and in which he links to a lament-rant by the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg against Trump and his Republican trumpenproletariat (great neologism) supporters. Goldberg’s jeremiad, “No movement that embraces Trump can call itself conservative,” is a doozy. This bit is particularly noteworthy

If you want a really good sense of the damage Donald Trump is doing to conservatism, consider the fact that for the last five years no issue has united the Right more than opposition to Obamacare. Opposition to socialized medicine in general has been a core tenet of American conservatism from Day One. Yet, when Republicans were told that Donald Trump favors single-payer health care, support for single-payer health care jumped from 16 percent to 44 percent.

Wow, that’s awesome! No wonder conservative ideologues are so disoriented and distraught at the Trump phenomenon. It is hardly surprising that some are even darkly suspecting that Trump may be, as National Review columnist John Fund wonders, “a double agent for the left.” E.g.

Indeed, all that hanging around Democrats really rubbed off on him. In a 2000 book, he declared “we must have universal health care” and said it should look a lot like Canada’s system: “Doctors might be paid less than they are now, as is the case in Canada, but they would be able to treat more patients because of the reduction in their paperwork.” As recently as last year, Trump was still praising single-payer medical systems overseas.

At the same time that he was plumping for single-payer health care in 2000, Trump called for a one-time 14.25 percent net-worth tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth of over $10 million. He has also called for a 20 percent tax on importing goods. All this has led talk-show host Glenn Beck to declare: “Donald Trump is a progressive. He’s not a conservative.”

A progressive or, rather, a moderate Republican, as the NYT’s Josh Barro suggested in a post last month on the NYT’s The Upshot blog? Whatever the case, the bottom line—and it’s kind of scary—was laid out by journalist Conor Lynch in Salon three days ago: “The shocking truth about Donald Trump: He’s actually the least terrifying GOP candidate.” Ex-GOPer Bruce Bartlett said much the same thing in a social media comment today: “Honest to God, if forced to vote for one of the wankers now running, I would vote for Trump in a minute.” Personally speaking, if I were ordered to choose among the candidates in the large GOP field, it would be a toss-up between John Kasich and Trump. Scary and shocking indeed.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman, in his Labor Day column, says that “Trump is right on economics.”

2nd UPDATE: Differing with Krugman, Wall Street executive and contributing NYT opinion writer Steven Rattner, in his August 14th column, laid waste to “Trump’s economic muddle.

3rd UPDATE: Michael Tomasky has a review essay in the September 24th issue of the NYRB—and that is well worth the read—of Donald Trump’s 2012 book Time to Get Tough: Make America Great Again!

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American Zeitgeist

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

The above photo, of Donald Trump’s rally in Mobile on Friday, is making the rounds on social media. It’s a breathtaking image. Laleh Khalili of the University of London-SOAS, sharing the photo on Facebook, thus commented: “I pray to god that this picture is real, not pieced together, as it needs to hang in a gallery for conveying an utterly horrifying mood, a moment of terror, in these super-saturated colours and its manic absurdity.” Laurie King of Georgetown U. added: “If Norman Rockwell came back from the dead, smoked some crack, and had some Southern Comfort on the rocks with Coca Cola, this is what he’d paint.”

As we know, Trump has no chance whatever of being the GOP nominee, let alone POTUS. Of course not. No way. But then, crazier things have happened in the history of the world… Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who incarnates a serious, level-headed, centrist/center-right leaning sensibility that has all but disappeared from the Republican party (it’s striking he’s still at AEI), has a piece in The Atlantic (August 21st) in which he wonders if “Maybe this time is really different.” The lede: “Historical precedents augur against Donald Trump—but perhaps the old rules no longer apply.” Ornstein knows American politics—and particularly the US Congress—better than just about anyone, so his analyses are to be taken seriously. Money quote

…I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism [in regard to the staying power of insurgent populist candidacies like Trump’s] than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

Of course, this phenomenon is not new in 2015. It was there in 1964, building over decades in which insurgent conservative forces led by Robert Taft were repeatedly thwarted by moderates like Tom Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, until they prevailed behind the banner of Barry Goldwater. It was present in 1976, when insurgent conservative Ronald Reagan almost knocked off Gerald Ford before prevailing in 1980 (and then governing more as a pragmatist than an ideologue). It built to 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a huge class of insurgents to victory in mid-term elections, but then they had to accept pragmatist-establishment leader Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in 1996. And while John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were establishment figures, each had to veer sharply to the radical right side to win nominations; McCain, facing a possible revolt at his nominating convention if he went with his first choice for running mate, Joe Lieberman, instead bowed to the new right and picked Sarah Palin.

So is anything really different this time? I think so. (…)

To read Ornstein’s analysis—in which he does not exclude the possibility that Trump could make it to the GOP convention in Cleveland next July and with a sizable contingent of delegates—go here.

This is neither here nor there but Maureen Dowd, whose perspectives I give rather less weight to than Norm Ornstein’s, has a column in today’s NYT on (surprise!) Trump, in which (surprise!) she takes note of his full head of presumably natural blond hair. This immediately brought to mind this well-known blond French politico—whom Trump resembles in a number of respects, politically and personally—who, like Trump, remained a (presumably) natural blond into his 70s. Just saying.

Some GOP politicians and right-wing commentators have tried to establish a symmetry between Trump and Bernie Sanders, with the latter being the Democratic party mirror image of the former, if not even more of a political outlier on account of his self-proclaimed “socialism.” I’m sorry but that won’t fly. Bernie’s attachment to the socialist label is folklore, signifying nothing in concrete reality. Bernie’s “socialism” is Western European/Canadian-style social democracy; in America he’s on the left-wing of the Democratic party (though with some exceptions, notably on gun control; and, pour mémoire, he has always run for office as an independent and not a Democrat, which is one reason, among others, as to why he has zero chance of being the Democratic party’s presidential nominee). In his rhetoric, Bernie has been eminently sensible. And his announcement last week that he will introduce legislation to abolish privately owned prisons is the smartest, most sensible policy proposal I’ve heard during this campaign season. When it comes to policy and general seriousness, between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders il n’y a pas photo…

UPDATE: Two articles on Trump’s supporters, one in the NYT (August 22nd), “Why Donald Trump won’t fold: Polls and people speak,” another on Reuters’ The Great Debate blog (August 23rd), “Strange bedfellows: Donald Trump and the white working class,” this one by George Mason U. public policy prof Justin Gest. It is striking how the Trump base, as it were, is almost identical to that of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front National over the years, politically and sociologically.

Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger has a “A tale of two rallies: My summer with Bernie and Trump” (August 23rd). The lede: “One is a political revolution with a mellow vibe. The other feels more like a professional wrestling match.” No need to say which is which. The Bernie and Trump phenomenons, though reflecting a similar frustration of many voters with established politicians, are quite different, as are the two candidates, obviously.

2nd UPDATE: Reinforcing the parallel of Trump, Le Pen, and their respective supporters is Evan Osnos’s lengthy, must-read article in the August 31st issue of The New Yorker, “The fearful and the frustrated.” The lede: “Donald Trump’s nationalist coalition takes shape—for now.”

3rd UPDATE: Cas Mudde of the University of Georgia, who specializes in European populist movements, has a post (August 26th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “The Trump phenomenon and the European populist radical right.” Mudde notes the American specificities of Trump as politician—of some differences between The Donald and European right-wing populist personalities—but observes, as do I, the close similarities of their respective political bases

Contrary to the man (Trump) and the ideology (Trumpism), the supporter of Trump (the Trumpista) is almost identical to the populist radical right voter in (Western) Europe. First studies show that Trump is particularly popular among young, lower educated, white males. This is exactly the same group that constitutes the core of the electorate of populist radical right parties in Western Europe. The gender gap is particularly striking. Just as European populist radical right parties have a much larger gender gap than mainstream right-wing parties, attracting roughly two men for every one woman, Trump has the largest gender gap among the GOP candidates, particularly among likely Republican primary voters.

A clarification on one thing Mudde says

However, [Trump’s] general views on immigration and integration are much more in line with U.S. conservatives than with European far right. For instance, Trump singles out illegal immigration and does not attack the status of the U.S. as a multicultural immigration country. And while he has been speaking about “the Muslim problem” at least since 2011, he is much more nuanced in his views of Islam and Muslims than people like Marine Le Pen and, certainly, Geert Wilders. In fact, his views on Muslims really don’t stand out much from many other prominent Republicans – a majority of the main candidates in the 2012 GOP primary made Islamophobic statements.

Setting the record straight in regard to the French FN, its anti-Islam rhetoric is a recent phenomenon, dating from Marine Le Pen’s assumption of the party leadership in 2011. Jean-Marie Le Pen never targeted Islam or Muslims qua Muslims in his discourse. His fire was aimed at immigration from the former colonies, in particular the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamophobia in the FN in the 1980s and ’90s came specifically from the Mégret group, which quit the FN in the party’s 1998 split, forming the MNR (now moribund). As it happens, Marine LP’s anti-Islam rhetoric coincides with the reintegration of a certain number of Mégretistes into the FN (and in Marine’s inner circle).

4th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has a spot on piece (August 28th) on how “The conservative establishment is in deep denial about Donald Trump’s appeal.” In a nutshell, the Trump phenomenon is showing up an important disconnect between the GOP elite and the party’s donor class, on the one hand, and the GOP rank-and-file, on the other. The latter is further to the right than the former on immigration but well to its left on the economy, notably on social insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. In short, regular Republican voters don’t care about the size of government.

There is a similar disconnect in the Democratic party, BTW, but that’s for another post.

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Van Jones, the founder/president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream—and President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009—has an important commentary on the CNN website on the Black Lives Matter movement and the “5 lessons” Democrats should draw from the recent disruptions of Bernie Sanders’s rallies. Now I had a negative reaction to the spectacle of the two BLM women disrupting Bernie’s Seattle event last Saturday—I hate hecklers and in almost all circumstances, as I wrote some four years ago—though Van Jones specifies that BLM is a decentralized, unstructured movement and that not all actions of those claiming its name—who may, in fact, have nothing to do with BLM—are to be defended. Regardless of what happened in Seattle, though, there are primordial issues for Black Americans—specific ills that require specific remedies—that are not being adequately addressed by liberal Democrats and their progressive economic agenda—issues that national Democrats would prefer not to dwell on, as these have to do with the police and the functioning of the criminal justice system. But, as Jones writes, “[i]n case anyone missed the memo after Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston, here it is: the Obama era of black silence on issues that matter to us is over.” And the Dems must address these issues head on.

One issue, e.g., is the subject of an article by Mother Jones contributing writer Jack Hitt in the September-October 2015 issue, “Police shootings won’t stop unless we also stop shaking down black people,” on the dependence of many municipalities with poor populations—and thus a low local tax base—on fines in order to finance city government—and particularly police departments—thus turning the police into predatory extortion rackets.

A case in point is Ferguson MO, which criminology professors Richard Wright and Richard Rosenfeld—respectively of Georgia State U. and the U. of Missouri-St. Louis—explain in a piece (August 11th) on “Why Ferguson erupts,” on the website/blog The Conversation: Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair. Money quote

Today, many of these [poor] municipalities [in St. Louis county] rely heavily on traffic fines and court fees to stay afloat.

This patchwork of speed traps is a bad joke among more affluent inhabitants of St Louis County.

But it is no joke for those who accumulate traffic fines they cannot afford to pay, miss court dates and are jailed on outstanding arrest warrants. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko has documented, that is an all-too-frequent experience for the county’s disadvantaged black residents, convinced they are harassed by the police and abused by uncaring white prosecutors.

Another issue is the subject of an article by freelance journalist Nick Pinto, “The bail trap,” in the latest NYT Magazine. The lede: “Every year, thousands of innocent people [in their great majority black and brown] are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.”

Van Jones, in his article, reminds the Democrats that their presidential candidate will need 90 to 95% of the black vote in order to win next year. But not only will blacks need to vote in this percentage range for the Democrat—which is near certain—but, more importantly, they’ll need to vote in the same proportion as whites, which they did for the first time ever in 2008, and then again in 2012. If black turnout drops next year and relative to that of whites, the Dems will have a tougher road to victory. For this reason alone, it is essential that the Democrats address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, elaborate concrete policy responses, and pledge to act on them.

BTW, on The Conversation blog is an interesting comment (August 10th) by U. of Washington political science professors Christopher Parker and Megan Ming Francis, “Why the silence of moderate conservatives is dangerous for race relations.”

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Trump’s triumph


[update below] [2nd update below]

That’s what freelancer Mike Whitney, writing on an ultra-gauchiste website I do not habitually consult, called Donald Trump’s performance in the Fox News GOP presidential debate the other day—a debate that, Whitney opined, “featured the most riveting two-minute political exchange ever heard on national television.” I didn’t see the debate myself but, based on the transcript, Whitney could well be right

FOX News Brett Baier (talking to Trump): Now, 15 years ago, you called yourself a liberal on health care. You were for a single-payer system, a Canadian-style system. Why were you for that then and why aren’t you for it now?

TRUMP: As far as single payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.

What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state. I have a big company with thousands and thousands of employees. And if I’m negotiating in New York or in New Jersey or in California, I have like one bidder. Nobody can bid.

You know why?

Because the insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians, of course, with the exception of the politicians on this stage. (uneasy laughter) But they have total control of the politicians. They’re making a fortune.

Get rid of the artificial lines and you will have…yourself great plans…

BAIER: Mr. Trump, it’s not just your past support for single-payer health care. You’ve also supported a host of other liberal policies….You’ve also donated to several Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton included, and Nancy Pelosi. You explained away those donations saying you did that to get business-related favors. And you said recently, quote, “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

TRUMP: You’d better believe it.

BAIER: — they do?

TRUMP: If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.

TRUMP: I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

BAIER: Hold on…..We’re going to — we’re going to move on.”

Mike Whitney: “There it is, two glorious minutes of pure, unalloyed truth on national television. How often does that happen?”

Now truth does get told on television but Trump did indeed make two noteworthy truthful statements—on single-payer health insurance and the outsized role of rich donors in politics—that are remarkable for a top-tier GOP presidential candidate.

Matthew Yglesias was particularly impressed by what Trump had to say on health insurance, saying that “Donald Trump had the best policy idea of anyone in [Tuesday] night’s debate.” Yglesias thus began

Donald Trump offered the single best, most original policy idea in the Republican Party debate Thursday night. He also demonstrated by far the greatest understanding of a complicated area of public policy. There, I said it.

If Trump weren’t such a bombastic, megalomaniacal, male chauvinist pig—i.e. if he weren’t Donald Trump—he could be a halfway interesting GOP candidate—and definitely more so than most of the other clowns who were on the stage with him Tuesday night.

But there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that he’ll go the distance, at least not with the Republican party. Nate Silver gives Trump a 2% chance of winning the GOP nomination, which seems generous to me. And with Fox News now out to take Trump down and knock him out of the GOP race, his chances are lessened that much more, as both Silver and Ezra Klein confidently argue.

But Trump continues to influence the GOP debate, e.g. on immigration, as TNR senior editor Jeet Heer observes

Trump’s impact is most clearly seen in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who during the earlier “undercard” debate among low-polling candidates made this startling pronouncement: “We must insist on assimilation—immigration without assimilation is an invasion…. They need to learn English, adopt our values, roll up their sleeves and get to work. I’m tired of the hyphenated Americans and the division.”

Jindal’s comments are startling because they go against the grain of most of the last century, when ethnic diversity was seen as perfectly compatible with membership in American society.

If Jindal pronounced his words en français, one could take him for Nicolas Sarkozy. Or Marine Le Pen.

On French analogies, I’ve already written that Trump is a mix of Sarkozy, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Bernard Tapie. Three of the most loathsome, despicable persons in French political/public life.

Back to the Fox debate, Slate’s Fred Kaplan had a commentary on how shockingly ill-informed the Republican candidates were on foreign policy.

And on the general subject of Fox News, Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution strongly recommends a paper (July 27th) by Jackie Calmes, a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and national correspondent for The New York Times, “‘They don’t give a damn about governing’: Conservative media’s influence on the Republican party.”

À suivre très certainement.

UPDATE: It looks like I may have been a bit off on who will win a Trump vs. Fox News bras de fer.

2nd UPDATE: Jacob Weisberg has a smart op-ed (August 13th) in the FT, “An alpha-male fantasy that trumps reality.” The lede: “Billionaire [Trump] is the only 69-year-old white guy in the US who lives like a rap star…” In his conclusion, Weisberg notes the rather obvious similarities of Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, with “[their] key difference [being] that Mr Trump does not take himself all that seriously as a demagogue, lacking the self-discipline and long-range calculation. He is essentially a narcissist taking his ego out for a joyride.”

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[update below]

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act—one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history—here is a lengthy article, ICYMI, by NYT political correspondent Jim Rutenberg, in the August 2nd NYT Magazine, on the underhanded campaign of Republicans to undermine the Act, “A dream undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act.”

It’s quite something: The US Republican party is the only major party in an advanced democracy—and, I emphasize, the only such party—that seeks to effectively disenfranchise part of its electorate; to render it more difficult for its citizens to participate in the political system and cast their ballots. Such would be inconceivable in any polity in Europe or North America, or, for that matter, in any even halfway democratic one worthy of the name outside of Europe or North America. Just saying.

ADDENDUM: On the image in the postage stamp—which was part of this series issued by the USPS—it was taken by photographer Bruce Davidson at the March 7, 1965, march in Selma, Alabama.

UPDATE: From Jenée Desmond-Harris at Vox, here are “13 things you need to know about the fight over voting rights.”

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