Something To Think About While Iowa Caucuses-- The Establishment Is Our Enemy
Hillary has tried to say she isn't part of the Establishment. That's insane and if you believe it, you should do the country a favor and not vote at all. This should be the year that voters from both parties are disgusted enough with that corrupt, self-serving Establishment to turn it out. Republican voters seem to understand the dynamic better than Democratic voters, even if their fake anti-Establishment candidate is a a degenerate and parasitic New York City billionaire.
Over the weekend, the NY Times published OpEds by Frank Bruni and Ross Douthat examining the spirituality behind the campaigns leading up to today's caucuses in Iowa. Douthat framed it as a revolt against decadence by the supporters of Herr Trumpf and Bernie. He finds voters angry, exhausted, disgusted and cynical with the Bushes and the Clintons and the rest of the blood-sucking establishment. Since most everything is pretty good-- employment, peace, Obamacare, the deficit, inflation, immigration, abortion-- he wonders aloud what's propelling the rise of the two outsider candidacies.
One answer might be that they’re fed up with exactly this-- the politics of “it could be worse,” of stagnation and muddling through. They aren’t revolting against abject failure, or deep and swift decline. They’re rebelling against decadence... [D]on’t just think about the word in moral or aesthetic terms. Think of it as a useful way of describing a society that’s wealthy, powerful, technologically proficient-- and yet seemingly unable to advance in the way that its citizens once took for granted. A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints. A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.Douthat, of course, is a ridiculous reactionary blockhead, clinging to the fringes of the media establishment himself, and incapable of the imagination it takes to break through the scenario he somehow managed to outline. Bruni, at least has an IQ capable of grappling with abstract and complex ideas as he examined the role of religion in the Iowa GOP campaign, what he painted as "an unsettling holy war," something many observers have been aghast to view in recent weeks. But "righteousness," he points out in regard to Cruz's pandering, "is a tricky business. It has a way of coming back to bite you."
This is how many Americans, many Westerners, experience their civilization in the early years of the 21st century. And both Trump and Bernie Sanders, in their very different ways, are telling us that we don’t have to settle for it anymore.
With Trump, the message is crude, explicit, deliberately over the top. Make America Great Again. “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”
But it resonates because the diagnosis resonates-- especially with older Americans, who grew up amid the post-World War II boom, the vaulting optimism of the space age, the years when big government and big business were seen as effective and patriotic rather than sclerotic and corrupt. Trump is offering nostalgia, but it’s not a true reactionary’s lament. He wants to take us back to a time when the future seemed great, amazing, fantastic.
Likewise Sanders... [who] is telling liberals, younger liberals especially, that the heroic age of liberalism isn’t over yet, that they can have a welfare state that’s far more amazing and fantastic than the one their forefathers constructed...
[B]oth men are promising the implausible or the impossible-- and the fact that Trump is openly contemptuous of our ragged republican norms-- is a reminder that there are worse things than decadence, grimmer possibilities for the future than drift and repetition.
The disappointment and impatience that people feel in a decadent era is legitimate, even admirable. But the envy of more heroic moments, the desire to just do something to prove your society’s vitality-- Invade Iraq to remake the Middle East! Open Germany’s borders! Elect Trump or Sanders president!-- can be a very dangerous sensibility.
There are pathways up from decadence. But there are more roads leading down.
John Judis wrote at Vox over the weekend that Beltway elites better wake up and figure out what's motivating the Trumpf and Bernie voters. After pointing out that the 2 candidates differ dramatically on issue after issue, he writes that "both are critical of how wealthy donors and lobbyists dominate the political process, and both favor some form of campaign finance reform. Both decry corporations moving overseas for cheap wages and to avoid American taxes. Both reject trade treaties that favor multinational corporations over workers. And both want government more, rather than less, involved in the economy."
Religion routinely plays a prominent part in political campaigns, especially on the Republican side, and always has an outsize role in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up an especially large fraction of the Republican electorate.
But there was a particular edge to the discussion this time around. It reflected Trump’s surprising strength among evangelicals and his adversaries’ obvious befuddlement and consternation about that.
Cruz’s whole strategy for capturing the presidency hinges on evangelicals’ support, as Robert Draper details in the Times Magazine.
He rails against abortion rights and same-sex marriage in speeches that sound like sermons, with references to Scripture and invocations of God.
He ended a question-and-answer session with Iowans that I attended in a typical fashion, asking them to use the waning hours until the caucuses to pray.
...A super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee produced an ad for both radio and TV in which two women express doubts about Cruz’s commitment to Christian causes, saying that he speaks in one way to Iowans and in another to New Yorkers whose campaign donations he needs.
... It’s impossible to know the genuineness of someone’s faith. That’s among the reasons we shouldn’t grant it center stage.
Religion was integral to our country’s founding. It’s central to our understanding of the liberty that each of us deserves. But so are the principles that we don’t enshrine any one creed or submit anyone-- including those running for office-- to religious litmus tests.
So why does a Republican race frequently resemble such an exam?
The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 was Rick Santorum, who put his Catholicism at the forefront of his campaign. The winner in 2008 was Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor who never let you forget that.
To emerge victorious in 2016, several candidates are leaning hard on religion, hoping it’s an advantage over Trump.
But just as God is said to work in mysterious ways, religion is working in unexpected ways in this campaign. According to some national polls, more evangelicals back Trump than they do any other candidate.
That’s true although he’s on his third marriage; although he’s boasted of sexual conquests; although he went to the evangelical stronghold of Liberty University in 2012 and, in a rambling speech, mentioned the importance of prenuptial agreements; although he returned to Liberty University just weeks ago and revealed his inexperience in talking about the Bible by citing “two Corinthians” when anyone with any biblical fluency would have pronounced it “Second Corinthians.”
Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., went so far as to endorse Trump, a development that clearly galled Trump’s rivals and bolstered their resolve to prove that they’re the better Christians.
Jeb Bush questioned Trump’s faith. Marco Rubio kept going out of his way to extol his own.
...[A]t a rally, Rubio visibly brightened when a voter brought up faith and gave him an opportunity to expound on it.
“I pray for wisdom,” he said. “The presidency of the United States is an extraordinary burden and you look at some of the greatest presidents in American history. They were very clear. They were on their knees all the time asking for God, asking God for the wisdom to solve, for the strength to persevere incredible tests.”
That same image came up at the Cruz event during which Perry denigrated Trump. One of the speakers expressed joy at the thought of “a president who’s willing to kneel down and ask God for guidance as he’s leading our country.”
Cruz had declared such willingness in Iowa in November at an evangelical conference where a right-wing pastor talked about the death penalty for gay people and the need for candidates to accept Jesus as the “king of the president of the United States.”
“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this country,” Cruz said then.
I’m less interested in whether a president kneels down than in whether he or she stands up for the important values that many religions teach-- altruism, mercy, sacrifice-- along with the religious pluralism that this country rightly cherishes. And while I agree that Trump is unfit for the Oval Office, Corinthians has nothing to do with it.
Sanders is a left-wing populist. He wants to defend the "collapsing middle class" against the "billionaire class" that controls the economy and politics. He is not a liberal who wants to reconcile Wall Street and Main Street, or a socialist who wants the working class to abolish capitalism.
Trump is a right-wing populist who wants to defend the American people from rapacious CEOs and from Hispanic illegal immigrants. He is not a conventional business conservative who thinks government is the problem and who blames America’s ills on unions and Social Security.
Both men are foes of what they describe as their party’s establishment. And both campaigns are also fundamentally about rejecting the way economic policy has been talked about in American presidential politics for decades.
...Businesses initially found useful allies in a Republican party that was bringing together local business, rural voters, and white working-class voters disillusioned with the Democrats. But as labor lost members and money, businesses also assumed a larger role in funding Democratic candidates.
In 1992, Bill Clinton’s single biggest bloc of contributions came from the employees of Goldman Sachs. And Clinton didn’t disappoint his funders when he named Goldman Sachs president Robert Rubin as the head of his new National Economic Council and later as Treasury secretary, where he championed bringing China into the World Trade Organization (even as it continued to manipulate its currency and saving rates to achieve trade surpluses) and the deregulation of the financial industry.
Business’s influence was magnified by a series of Supreme Court rulings-- handed down by a court whose members had been nominated by Republican presidents. It began in 1976, when the court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo threw out the campaign finance reforms of 1971 and 1974, which had established limits on both total contributions and total spending, and has continued through Citizens United and McCutcheon, which repealed, in effect, a century-old restriction on corporate contributions. As a result, businesses and the very wealthy are able to use their financial advantage to sway both Republicans and Democrats on economic legislation that is important to them.
...Sanders, with his New Left pedigree, is a much more predictable foe of market liberalism among Democrats as well as Republicans. Until he ran for president, Sanders was an independent, not a Democrat. He has no endorsements from current senators or governors (even in his home state) and only two endorsements from House members. Some Democrats share some of his political ideas, but as a whole, what Sanders thinks runs counter to the prevailing ideology of the past three Democratic administrations.
Sanders still calls himself a socialist, although he has abandoned the Marxist conception of socialism as public ownership and control of the means of production. He also calls himself a progressive and was a founder of the House Progressive Caucus, but he is not exactly in the tradition of progressives or liberals. Progressives and liberals want to reconcile the competing demands of capital and labor.
Sanders is much more of a left-wing populist who sees a virtuous people arrayed against an establishment. Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd why he thought he had no Senate endorsements, Sanders replied: "It tells me that we are taking on the political establishment, we're taking on the economic establishment, the financial interest in this country, and we're taking on the corporate establishment."
...Sanders, like Trump, takes positions on specific issues that put him at odds with market liberalism. His proposals, whether or not they are immediately feasible, challenge an approach that prioritizes the private market. He unblushingly favors huge government spending-- $1 trillion worth-- on infrastructure and would pay for that and for free public college tuition by tax hikes on speculation and the wealthy that Clinton, for one, opposes. He wants Medicare for all, which would mean eliminating private health insurers except as they might supplement government programs.
Sanders opposes trade agreements that he believes encourage American companies to invest overseas rather than at home, and wants to close tax loopholes that would allow "corporate deserters" to avoid American taxes. Like Trump, he promises to be tough on China. He wants to break up the biggest banks by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act that the Clinton administration and Congress repealed. And while he favors comprehensive immigration reform, he joins Trump in charging that the H-1B program, cherished by Silicon Valley Democrats, deprives Americans of jobs.
While Trump has financed his own campaign, Sanders, unlike Clinton, has relied on small donors and avoided PACs or Super PACs. He wants public funding of campaigns and promises to make overturning Citizens United a litmus test in a Supreme Court nomination. But the heart of his case against the current political arrangement comes in his call for "political revolution," which he regularly defines as "involving millions and millions of people in the political process today in a way that has never been the case before." Sanders is referring not simply to election turnout, but to the kind of popular presence between elections that could counter the power of the "billionaire class." Sanders’s view, however vague, is a call to reverse the oligarchic tendencies of the past decades. Only an organized movement from below could conceivably do that.
Sanders and Trump appeal to very different constituencies.
According to a January Pew poll, Trump’s voters tend on average (but not exclusively) to be white, male, older, without a college degree, and in the middle or lower-middle income quintile. They are the descendants of the white working-class Reagan Democrats who made possible-- but didn’t constitute the bulk of-- the Republican majorities of the past 35 years. As a new RAND survey has shown, Trump’s supporters are more likely to express resentments toward racial minorities and undocumented immigrants and to favor "progressive economic policies."
Sanders’s voters, on the other hand, tend to be younger, are attending or have graduated from college, and are in the upper-middle income quintile. There are signs of some blue-collar support, but for the most part Sanders’s supporters are more likely to be potential or existing professionals that as a group have played a similar role in Democratic majorities as the white working class in Republican majorities. In surveys, they currently tend to be white and male, but that is largely out of comparison with Hillary Clinton, who enjoys widespread support among women and minorities.
In New Hampshire, I found some voters who said they would support either Trump or Sanders, and some other reporters have come up with additional examples of potential crossover voters, but I don’t think at present the bulk of either candidate's voters would favor the other. The gulf on minorities, immigrants, climate change, and the general attitude toward women is too great. The Sanders and Trump constituencies are parts of a whole that doesn’t yet exist, but if it were to come into being it could potentially shake the foundations of present market liberal politics.
...What is happening to the United States and Western Europe now can be compared to what happened from the 1870s to the beginning of World War II. During this earlier period, capital and a laissez faire view of the economy initially reigned supreme, and, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated, economic inequality grew apace, as it has over the past 40 years.
There were initial outbursts similar to those that the United States and Western Europe are experiencing now-- the populists and socialists in the United States, the socialist and Labour parties in Europe-- but they didn’t cohere into a powerful challenge until the decades after World War I and the onset of the Great Depression.
When they did come together, however, the challenge took two very different forms. In the United States, the breakdown of the old order led to the triumph of the New Deal on the left. In Europe, it resulted in the rise of fascism.