1789 REDUX?

In recent years some analysts have anticipated a political apocalypse, a “tipping point” where the demographics of America had tilted so far in the direction of the core constituency of the Democratic Party that our political system had become obsolete.  The theory was, if a simple majority of our voting citizens were so dependent upon financial assistance from government that they might prefer such dependency over an opportunity to compete for a living in a free-market economy, the Republican Party – and our free-market, democratic republic – might be doomed.   People vote their pocketbooks, and if government-dependency is better for the have-nots’ pocketbooks than the best the free market can provide, they will swap the virtues of the historical American model for the bigger paycheck.  The election of Barack Obama did not signal that we had reached that tipping point, though it did signal that we were close enough that if you combined the have-not votes with the white-guilt votes, you had a winner.  But now we could be moving to the next stage.

Donald Trump has raised the prospect of a very different tipping-point.  His movement appeals to have-nots, though it is not defined by have-nottism.  It is a coalition of people who are so frustrated by the American political system that they will vote for the candidate most likely to blow it up.   This coalition includes not just people who are voting their pocketbook, but also people who see the American political system as so weighted-down by corruption, rent-seeking, and crony capitalism that it has failed.   One is tempted to say that the Trumpists are spoiled children, the products of a society grown so decadent, self-indulgent, and weak that it is easy prey for a theatrical con-man, and to some extent that is what they are.  But there is a bigger picture.

Some would argue that our affinity for off-the-wall candidates like Messrs. Obama and Trump should not be blamed upon the voters, that the fault lies with our government and our political system.  Call it a rescission of the “social contract” (if you are a progressive), with the voters taking the position that the state has invalidated that contract by making too many terrible decisions.  Or call it a breakdown in the “Rule of Law” (if you are a conservative), with our hodge-podge of laws and executive orders and regulations having become so voluminous, costly, burdensome, and corrupt as to constitute an abandonment of the Rule-of-law principle that the rules should be reasonable, consistent, non-discriminatory in application, and understandable to most adults.  Either way, the Trumpists are in a mood to tear it all down and re-start from scratch, regardless of where that might lead, and they could hardly care less about socialism, capitalism, the size of government, or political ideology in general.

That Trump has chosen the Republican Party over his natural home with the Democrats, is no surprise, as it is the Republicans who have done the best job of corrupting their own professed ideology, with people like Boehner and McConnell having abandoned conservative principles long ago.  Trump might be running as a Republican because he figured out that the Republicans might be even madder than the Democrats.

How did we get here?  A thought:  today, one can pop open the Wall Street Journal on a Friday or Saturday morning and see dozens of pages showcasing the lifestyles of the rich, where a mere $10 million home scarcely qualifies for display and one can find a $10,000 outfit of allegedly coordinated men’s clothing that will make you look like you just woke up with a hangover after an all-night fraternity-party.  They also have a weekly section devoted entirely to reviews of automobiles that cost $100,000 and up.  Are there really enough Wall Street Journal readers who even care about such stuff, much less have the means and the inclination to buy  it?  Do the WSJ and their target audience understand the impact of such behavior upon everyone else?

Wage-disparity is not an unprecedented phenomenon but it is nevertheless the stuff that turns “trickle-down economics” into a pejorative term and stirs resentment in a big chunk of the Donald Trump constituency.  The disparity motivates many, including some who make a very good living and some who could even afford to do their shopping via the WSJ weekend editions.  Many Trumpists must wonder, who lives like that, other than athletes, performing artists, Wall Streeters, and – the big one – politicians and lobbyists and crony capitalists and corporate CEOs, all the people who make the big money through involvement with our government?  It appears that many Trumpists are OK with rich actors and singers and athletes, but most are definitely not OK with people who appear to have gotten rich through their relationships with government – certainly they cannot stomach politicians whose net worth has increased dramatically during their term in office.

The 2016 election is not the French Revolution or the Bolshevik Uprising, but there are similarities.   Our elites are seen as being in breach of both the social contract and the rule of law.  The Trumpists might be here to stay.

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