Here’s Angry Paul with a take that I’m seeing more and more from our liberal intelligentsia: that Trump’s rise has nothing to do with the collapsing economic fortunes of the white working class and everything to do with racism.
I’ve seen claims that Tea Partiers were motivated by Wall Street bailouts, or even that the movement was largely about fiscal responsibility, driven by voters upset about budget deficits.
In fact, there was never a hint that any of these things mattered; if you followed the actual progress of the movement, it was always about white voters angry at the thought that their taxes might be used to help Those People, whether via mortgage relief for distressed minority homeowners or health care for low-income families.
Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”
So let’s take Krugman’s analysis at face value. And let’s set aside that, for Krugman and the authors of those other pieces and many like them, the point of politics is not to help people but to establish the ranks of the holy and the unclean. Either way the question remains: what do we do with these angry men?
I have argued, and will again, that the existence of tens of millions of nativist racists represents a practical problem to be addressed no matter what your take on their origins. I am not talking about giving concessions that we consider contrary to our basic convictions in an effort to court these voters. I’m not necessarily talking about courting them, as voters, at all. I am not saying we shouldn’t defeat them in elections. I am asking, what do we do with them after the elections have been won? More, I am here asking that we consider whether we want to adopt the basic logic of conservatism: that some people’s distress is deserved and thus safely ignored. Because that is the inevitable consequence of thinking like Krugman.
People say, frequently, that after W. Bush and Trump conservatism is finished, and perhaps as a movement committed to specific policies, it is. Certainly free market economics and austerity are alive and well and the dominant tendency in both parties, but I buy that the conservative movement as it has traditionally been understood is facing its Ragnarok. Yet in a deeper sense I think conservatives have won a major victory, one not understood by them or their antagonists: they have written the notion that dignity, respect, and material security must be earned into the progressive imagination. They have made the notion of a moral meritocracy inescapable in American civic life. The terms by which one comes to deserve the good life are different, but the basic logic of meritocracy has been preserved. One can imagine a new America where the ranks of human hierarchy have been jumbled but the existence of hierarchy has been preserved. This is not a future worth pursuing. I didn’t get interested in politics to become a member of an elect, or to decide who deserves to be within the elect, but to help tear down the very notion of an elect. Nor did I get interested in politics for the righteous thrill of lording it over the wrong.
“Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.” That’s the whole idea — not to reorganize Omelas, but to walk away.