It's an Era of Angry Populism and No One Is Immune

Bernie Sanders represents as radical a shift in party ideology as Donald Trump.

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As many conservatives grapple with the growing prospect of a Donald Trump presidential nomination, I've started to hear them asking one another the once unthinkable: "Would you vote for Trump?" Mostly, the answer is "of course not." He's a fascistic clown. He's a clandestine liberal (not really that cagey about it, to be honest) who'd be a disaster for the country, not to mention destroy the Republican Party for generations, perhaps forever.

Which is exactly the point, right?

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson writes that Trump is "proposing a massive ideological and moral revision of the Republican Party." He might have added: Like the one Democrats have already gone through.

Since there's so much concern-trolling and hand-wringing about the future of the right, it should not escape our attention that Republicans aren't the only ones dealing with the corrosive effects of populist anger and a cult of personality.

Yes, Trump is going to be a spectacular disaster—maybe even worse than most—but why would anyone believe the contrived progressivism and incompetence of Hillary Clinton or (the incredibly expensive) radicalism of Bernie Sanders would be any less of a catastrophe? The Democrat front-runners aren't less inclined to embrace authoritarianism or destructive economic theories than Trump—even if some of those ideas were mainstreamed over the past few years.
Democrats aren't ripping themselves apart as their leadership continually surrenders to the most strident voices in the party. Clinton, once the target of grassroots' derision and frustration, now sounds like a random blogger at Daily Kos—which once upon a time wanted to burn it all down, as well. The Democrats' debate was a celebration of "free" stuff and gargantuan reforms that would have been unthinkable positions for a mainstream Democrat candidate in 1992, or even 2008.

And, contra the finger-wagging wisdom of moderates, Democrats are just as likely to embrace a hateful tone aimed those they hold liable for the ills of the nation. They just happen to direct that anger at clingy gun-owners, reactionary Christians or those who believe in the superiority of Western ideals. Thought pieces fret over the end of civility only when the "anger" chafes against sensibilities of the media. President Obama and Trump fans have more in common than they'd like to imagine.

If Trump can be accused of fascism (and there's something to this charge), surely Bernie Sanders, now making huge strides in the polls, can easily be accused of being a Marxist. More so. Yet, how apprehensive are Democrats about this turn towards leftism? Could the hundreds of seats lost to Republicans over the past few years have anything to do with this turn? Is anyone worried that Sander's success will exacerbate the cultural rifts already destroying the party's appeal? How many Democrats ask themselves: Hey, would I vote for Bernie Sanders over Marco Rubio?

The corrupted centrist and one-time backer of the Iraq War (once the litmus test for liberals) holds every conceivable fiscal and political advantage over an obscure senator peddling failed ideas from early 20th century. Yet, imagine, if you will, what Clinton's prospects would look like if a more competent and charismatic socialist were running instead of Sanders, who is now ahead of Clinton by 27 percentage points among Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, according to a new CNN/WMUR poll. Or imagine if there were four or five other competent and well-funded candidates running in the Democrat primaries splitting the votes as they do on the other side? Would Sanders be where Trump is?

What happens if the bottom falls out? What happens if Hillary's candidacy becomes untenable because of her legal problems? Democrats will have a socialist candidate, who probably would more appropriately reflect their views.
This should not surprise anyone. After a number of populist revolts against their establishment during the Bush years—including the tossing aside of Clinton in 2008—liberals reinvented their party. And still Obama could not realize most of his agenda with the party behind him. The fear (and the promise) of a Trump candidacy comes from vastly overestimating executive power.

I'm not sold on the inevitability of a Trump victory in the primaries, but you don't get to build the ideal candidate, you get what the era gives you. This is an era of anger and populism. It was in 2008—when the recession shook free the anger and frustrations of many nervous voters—and it still is.

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  1. Where’s the anger coming from?

    1. Median household income (largely due to increasing regulation, mandates, and demographic changes, but the subjective effect is the same):

      http://tinyurl.com/z5bahf9

      Declining labor force participation rate among those younger than 55:

      http://tinyurl.com/jhrrhoz

      Also, massive growth in regulations and government spending as percentage of GDP, and the taxes and hassles that go along with that.

      Add to that the Internet, which finally is exposing all the bullshit and corruption that politicians of both parties have been engaging in. Twenty years ago, Clinton and Bush would have been shoo-ins for the election, widely supported by their parties, their buddies in newspapers and TV, and supported by academics.

  2. Seems to me like this anger is both justified and a natural consequence of a country that is now as corrupt as almost any Third World cesspool. And the anger/emotion is the only way that any human ever considers DOING anything about a situation they want to correct. Reason/logic never compels action. At best it compels cognitive dissonance – which can lead anywhere or nowhere. Emotion compels action. Always has. Always will as long as the limbic system of our brain exists in humans. And since humans now know enough about how to manipulate that system in other humans, then we are stuck with that ’emotional manipulation of other’ as the way actions will happen now. That is what a ‘mass society’ is based on.

    That knowledge can’t revert back to ignorance. That those emotions are now only being manipulated by people with a)stupid ideas or b)divide-and-conquer ideas – means only that people who don’t fit those two are blissfully irrelevant to anything other than being manipulated.

    I look forward to the libertarian who can understand that humans are also 99% lizards (and only, maybe, 1% rational detached Enlightenment-era philosopher-individuals). And can figure out a way to use the techniques of mass corrupting for the purposes of individual freedom/liberty. But I won’t hold my breath waiting.

    1. The game isn’t going well, no one adheres to the rules very much, toss it over.

      1. Though, if the game is Race to the Bottom, it does seem to be quite an exemplary round.

      2. Yep, pretty much. I made the same analogy a while back, when Trump was breaking every rule and getting away with it — that was the stage of the game where one kid has decided the game is just a way for the other kid to humiliate him and he’s probably cheating anyway, so he deliberately fucks around so the other kid can’t enjoy winning as much. The next stage is one of them getting so pissed that the board is getting slapped right off the table.

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  4. “but you don’t get to build the ideal candidate, you get what the era gives you”

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

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  6. OT: So I was reading an actually interesting Mark Perry article from the American Enterprise institute: “The public thinks the average company makes a 36% profit margin, which is about 5X too high.” (I don’t know how to post links :/)

    And one of the commenters said, regarding defense spending:

    “The budget consists roughly of 1/3 defense, 1/3 mandatory payments (Social Security and Medicaid) and 1/3 discretionary payments (everything else).

    We finance 1/3 (the military), and inflate it away. The world pays for our military through indirect taxation on the price of oil bought in dollars. This was the invention that the Nixon administration achieved with the Petro-Dollar and it was how we were able to run up the credit to defeat world communism under Regan.

    So technically speaking, 1/2 is discretionary, 1/2 is for redistribution, and the remainder ? the military ? is effectively free.

    Possessing this knowledge radically alters your perception of the world.”

    Hear that? Something something oil export tax = national defense is actually totally free. It’s free! All this crazy talk of cutting defense spending when in reality there’s nothing to cut because it’s totally free!

    I was thoroughly impressed by the extent of self-delusion in that one, a real gem.

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  9. “This is an era of anger and populism.” These are the eras that have given us our Stalins and Hitlers.

    1. Stalin and Hitler came to power because of an inability of European elites to deal with populism. That is, Russia had a revolution because its rulers were intransigent, oppressive, and completely out of touch.

      And Hitler, while popular, wouldn’t have managed to win a US-style general election. Hitler was put into power by German parliament, through political horse trading and political and financial pay-offs to special interest groups (most importantly, the Catholic Church and its political party, the Center Party).

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  11. Yes, I would vote from Trump over Bernie Sanders. Without hesitation. If it’s Trump vs. Clinton, I MIGHT not vote. If she gets indicted and still earns the nomination, then I’ll vote Trump.

    President Trump would have very little chance of enacting many of his more outlandish policies (like deporting a gazillion people and forcing Mexico to build a wall). Neither the house nor the senate will sign off on them. Obama had political muscles and an ideological driven base to ram through ACA and intervene in the ME almost at this whim.

    What’s more likely – Trump deporting masses of people, or Bernie Sanders taking steps to make college “free”?

    Trump can win, only if the white voters overwhelm the minority voting bloc or the enough of the dem’s non white base defects to him or stays home. Maybe a little of both. In any case, it’s a total victory for “America first” approach. Libertarians understand the implication, that’s why they’re so utterly obsessed with Trump (and Sanders) and ignore just about anyone else with equally bad ideas.

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  13. I’ll be taking my smartphone (silenced, naturally) into the voting booth, so that I can photograph my ballot, proving I didn’t vote for either of these boobs: Clinton and Trump. I suggest all do the same, because I’m going demand proof from everyone that they’ve not directly caused the problems of which they’ll most assuredly complain.

    I think there will be a great deal of “write-in” votes recorded in November. Gary Johnson may, entirely by default, be the most popular Libertarian vote getter of all time.

  14. Let’s hope the big banks, and specifically those who run them are not immune. There seems to be a short memory as to the causes of our current ills.

  15. I never expected to find myself rooting for a Hillary Clinton presidency, but here we are.

    The scenario I’m hoping for is that the Democrats win the presidency, and the Republicans retain control of at least one house of Congress, thereby preventing anything overly progressive from getting passed. And of course, if Bernie Sanders wins, having a divided government is even more important than it would be with Clinton or O’Malley (though O’Malley doesn’t really have a chance).

    I simply do not trust Trump or Cruz to lead the country. Among other things, Trump’s statement that he would shut down all immigration by Muslims into the US and Cruz’s statement that he would immediately get rid of the Iran Nuclear Deal lead me to think that both of these guys are acting reflexively on their most base instincts and preconceived dogmas about the world rather than thinking things through.

    The Democrats are wrong about plenty of things also. But the harmful things that a Democratic administration might want to do (excessive taxes, spending, and regulation) are more likely to be kept in check by an adversarial Congress.

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  17. “but why would anyone believe the contrived progressivism and incompetence of Hillary Clinton or (the incredibly expensive) radicalism of Bernie Sanders would be any less of a catastrophe?”

    Clinton (especially) and Sanders are known quantities with regard to governance. Clinton would would be a reboot of Obama and Bush, with all of their wars, spending, and government power grabs. Sanders is a socialist…probably an upgrade on foreign policy, but a terrifying downgrade with regard to spending.
    Trump on the other hand doesn’t seem to have any unifying theory other than a belief in his own greatness. Can anyone really predict what he would do in office? Like others, I really don’t know either. I suspect that he has little respect for our institutions of government, and that includes the Constitution. He is not a fascist yet, like others have pointed out, but I would select anyone, including Clinton or Sanders, with their known quantity, over a proto-fascist with no guiding principles other than his own greatness, and need for power.

    1. Sander an upgrade on foreign policy? I have my doubts.

    2. International politics is a D&S game.

    3. Trump on the other hand doesn’t seem to have any unifying theory other than a belief in his own greatness. Can anyone really predict what he would do in office? Like others, I really don’t know either.

      I think it’s a pretty good bet he’d have a hard time getting any laws passed.

      I would select anyone, including Clinton or Sanders, with their known quantity, over a proto-fascist with no guiding principles other than his own greatness, and need for power.

      Trump is an egocentric idiot with little competency in government or politics, but he is no “fascist”. The fascist in this election is clearly Sanders: his political program and rhetoric are nearly identical to 20th century fascists, including the NSDAP party. That shouldn’t be surprising either because 20th century fascism and Sanders both come out of the progressive movement.

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