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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spectator.

There was a moment of reckoning on election night when the enormity and irreversibility of what was taking place across the nation hit home with the force of a jackhammer. The talking heads were looking at two state maps, first Pennsylvania and after that Wisconsin, both enlarged on the screen so that each state was a jigsaw puzzle of its component counties. Seen this way, these rural, under-populated counties acquired a new weight, occupying essentially the same proportion in relation to their states as the states did to the whole country on the national map. And they were all red, a vast, unvarying mass of incontrovertible and indisputable red, every one of them carried by Trump.

So how did this happen, and what does it mean? Democrats have been watching white voters flee since LBJ signed the 1964 Rights Act. Many more drifted to Reagan, staggered by double-digit inflation, their national pride wounded by the defeat in Vietnam and the hostage-taking in Iran. A large number of these defections were from traditional households or families with longstanding ties to labor unions—or both—many of whom felt out of sync with the changes demanded by the women’s movement and environmentalists. Prodded by the likes of Richard Viguerie and Karl Rove, national Republicans also embraced the Religious Right, and for a time the so-called values voter was perceived to hold a veto on the shape of the GOP ticket.

The nation then fell in love with Barack Hussein Obama, part of whose genius as a candidate was to free up white voters to vote for a black man—by not blaming them for insensitivity to the black experience, and by identifying with the genuine aspects of their own predicament. Still, extremists in what was left of the Republican party were stirring, and the nihilist Tea Party injected white anger into the policy debate, forcing the Republicans further to the right and elevating obstructionism to a political art form.

All these historical strains surfaced again in the election of 2016. The populist left, cosmopolitan liberals, and mainstream Democrats all despair over Trump’s agenda, and to be sure his proposals, to the extent that they are known, or real, are profoundly dispiriting. But on top of that, Democrats are offended by Trump, offended that this egregious lout could be welcomed in the halls of Congress, their Congress (though Republicans have been in control off and on for a generation). Their candidate Hillary Clinton ran an entire campaign against Trump on the grounds that he was unsuited for the presidency.

Not so with the Trump voter, many of whom were first-time voters, or had voted for Obama, or hadn’t voted in years. We now know quite a lot about the Trump voter, and certainly more than the hapless pollsters who grossly underestimated Trump’s appeal. Rick Perlstein, the Spectator’s national correspondent, cautioned against reading too much into the polls from the start, and early on recognized the signs of populism on both sides. He also understood the basis of Bernie Sanders’s appeal to working-class voters and anti-establishment progressives: “Make full-throated appeals to ordinary people’s economic interests and frame what Teddy Roosevelt called ‘the malefactors of great wealth’ as the enemy, and you could crack the political world wide open.”

In The Populist Explosion, John Judis distinguished populism on the right and the left this way: “Leftwing populists champion the people against an elite or an establishment. Theirs is a vertical politics of the bottom and middle arrayed against the top. Rightwing populists champion the people against an elite that they accuse of coddling a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, Islamists, or African American militants.” The stage was set for break-away Democrats to anoint Bernie Sanders, and whites with grievances to embrace Donald Trump.

Yet, as ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis suggests in his masterful reporting from Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Trump voters are not always who we thought they were. MacGillis cites three common denominators—they live in places that are in decline, they lack strong attachments to either party, and they carry a profound contempt for a dysfunctional Washington. It’s a perverse tribute to the political skill of the Republicans, and an indictment of the inattentiveness of their audience, that the GOP could oppose every Obama initiative, bring the federal government to the edge of the precipice more than once, and still reap the support of those who were angry at the do-nothing Congress. For liberals, this runs parallel to their recognition that the greatest political achievement of the right is to have made their victims their most ardent supporters.

MacGillis talked to union members who voted for Trump, and to women who had experienced sexual harassment who voted for Trump. He spoke to people who railed against political correctness, people who were concerned about their jobs being shipped to Mexico, people who were overqualified for their jobs, people who thought their country was going in the wrong direction, people who couldn’t imagine Hillary as Commander-in-Chief—and all of them voted for Trump. As Paul Waldman of the American Prospect pointed out, “Hillary Clinton could have kidnapped every one of those voters and forced them to listen to her read her plan for paid family leave, and it wouldn’t have made a difference, because Trump was reaching them on a much more visceral level.”

Political strategists have an axiom about campaign narratives—never let the opposition tell your story. Republicans consumed two years and an estimated $7 million dollars on the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigation. Democrats decried the hearings as a politically motivated show trial aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. The committee’s final report found no new evidence of wrongdoing on Clinton’s part and essentially confirmed the findings of the seven previous investigations into the Benghazi tragedy. Clinton was quoted in The New York Times saying the hearings had a “partisan tinge” and Vanity Fair dubbed the final report a “dud.” But in the red counties of industrial Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the rural areas of Wisconsin, the damage was done.

The Benghazi investigation also produced another goldmine for Republicans—the controversy over Clinton’s use of a personal email server while secretary of state, which was first reported in The New York Times based on information provided by the Benghazi investigators. Clinton was cleared by the FBI in July of this year, and cleared again by FBI Director Comey two days before the election and a week after he had bizarrely announced the FBI was reopening the investigation. Yet in interviews across the “Blue Wall” of industrial states, Trump voters cited Benghazi and the emails as part of their calculus.

Trump won, as Robert Borosage of Ourfuture.org has observed, without a campaign apparatus and without the support of many of the leaders of his own party. His campaign was out-spent and out-organized, his tax dodges were exposed and a video documenting his predatory sexist boasts was reinforced by the testimonies of several of his victims. Trump, the billionaire buffoon, presented himself as the quintessential outsider, and Clinton, unable or unwilling to put forth a compelling vision of fundamental change, wrapped herself in Obama. Among the 39 percent of voters who considered change the most important quality of a candidate, in CNN exit polling, Trump led 83 percent to 14 percent.

So now what? It’s easy to guess at where a right-leaning Republican Congress is headed, but harder to intuit where a Trump presidency will take them. Trump provided a window onto his tactics in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

Banning Muslims and building a wall on the border with Mexico are more likely to end up in the landfill of Trump’s little hyperboles than as cornerstones of his legislative action program. He has called on the United States to withdraw from the Middle East and suggested Japan and other nations provide for their own defense—neither of which seem likely to survive the vetting of contemporary realpolitik.

In this context, it could even be argued he could walk back his threats to undo NAFTA, and to tear up the Iran deal and the Affordable Care Act (parts of which he recently said he “really likes”). Reports suggest his advisers are looking for a way out of the Paris climate accord, though both China and India issued stern warnings shortly after the election informing the president-elect that he would be defying the wishes of the entire planet if he withdrew from the agreement.

Whatever he decides about the international agreements, the environment is in for a beating. As reported in The Washington Post, there is little in Trump’s pro-business record or rhetoric to suggest he will not follow through on his promise “to roll back Obama’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and to scrap the litany of other ‘unnecessary rules’, especially those imposed on the oil, gas and coal sectors.”

Trump has already tapped Myron Ebell, an oil industry mouthpiece and recipient of Koch brothers’ largesse, to oversee the transition at the EPA. Ebell sees the environmental movement as alarmist and overzealous, and according to the Post “has argued for opening up federal lands for logging, oil and gas exploration and coal mining, and for turning over more permitting authority to the states.” Ebell, unsurprisingly, questions the international consensus that human activity plays a role in driving global warming.

Yet if we’re counting on the Trump voter to object to this new direction, we have a lot of work to do. In Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild reports that the victims of severe environmental degradation hate the Environmental Protection Agency as much as the large corporations responsible for the damage, and regularly vote for candidates who want to shut down the agency. One of her subjects tells Hochschild, without a trace of irony, “Pollution is the sacrifice we make for capitalism.”

Trump and his congressional allies, following the Republican playbook, will almost certainly lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy (though as an ordinary citizen Trump called for increasing taxes on the wealthy to pay off the national debt). They’ll also roll back the regulatory reforms imposed on Wall Street, which were adopted in response to the worst recession since the Great Depression. On the spending side, Trump and his advisers have talked about expanding the military budget and rebuilding infrastructure, emphasizing the jobs that come with that essential investment. Of the economic policy options, infrastructure spending may enjoy the most bi-partisan support and if enacted could suggest a pragmatism behind the bombast of the new president. He has indicated he plans to pay for his tax-cuts and increased spending by repatriating the money corporations have stashed offshore, closing tax loopholes enjoyed by the rich, and cutting unspecified social programs. But even if these changes spur economic growth in the short term, no one can make the math work, and there is deep skepticism that the economy can grow enough to offset the anticipated deficits.

Trump, who may turn out to prefer the hustings to the executive office, will try to sell tax cuts and infrastructure spending as a first step toward making America great again, and it will be interesting to see whether the populist white workers in Pennsylvania and Ohio and the rural white voters in Wisconsin are buying, or if they sense the first intimations of betrayal.

Perhaps more important, we’ll discover how quickly progressives find their voice in advance of the coming storm. The battle is already on for leadership of the Democratic Party, with progressives like Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) arguing for a new politics that digs out from under the rule of big money and offers a fair economy and a decent standard of living across all demographic lines.

Absent the presidential veto, other pet projects of the right are presumably back on the table. The Republican base has wanted to cut off NPR and public television for years, even though NPR stations now receive on average only about 10 percent of their revenues from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The tireless Viguerie recently declared “we are teed up to defund Planned Parenthood.”

And Trump, who was once pro-choice, has vowed to make the Hyde Amendment, which prevents taxpayer dollars from being used for abortion and is extended by Congress each year, a permanent law. These battles are preludes of course to the showdown over current and future vacancies on the Supreme Court, which Trump has promised to re-make with justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Abortion rights and affirmative action were on the winning side in recent majority decisions that would probably require two new appointments to overturn. But in the long run, a 7-2 conservative court composed of comparatively young judges is a nightmarish possibility.

These early days in Trumpland abound with ironies. Trump appointed family members—his daughter Ivanka, his son Donald Jr., and son-in-law Jared Kushner—to the transition team charged with charting the course of the federal government for the next four years. Yet we have Kushner to thank for blocking Chris Christie’s path to the vice-presidency, and now for helping to remove the dissembling New Jersey Governor from his perch at the head of same inner circle. In addition to public and official skepticism over his role in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, Christie is apparently paying the price for his successful 2004 prosecution of Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.

Another deeper irony beckons in the weeks and months following the inauguration, when Democrats, who have very few options to leverage their opposition to the right’s agenda, may find themselves turning to Trump the pragmatist to tame the more extreme impulses of the Republican Congress.

For more than a year Trump’s “truthful hyperboles” and barbaric campaign persona have played to the fantasists on the right and on the left, where few beyond Michael Moore understood the reach of his appeal. Conservatives are salivating at the prospect of unfettered control over the three branches of government, and the left in its different guises is gearing up for mobilization. Either we have elected an opportunistic, conservative businessman who is only just beginning to understand the constraints on his office, or we are standing on the doorstep of the apocalypse.

Hamilton Fish is The Washington Spectator’s publisher and editorial director.

IMAGE: Demonstrators hold signs in support of President elect Donald Trump outside of Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, U.S. November 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

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38 responses to “White Grievance And The Coming Storm”

  1. Otto T. Goat says:

    What predictably self-serving definitions of left and right populism John Jewdis provides.

    • I Am Helpy says:

      OK thanks for the neo-Nazi take.

    • Dan S says:

      You Trumpies have truly exposed yourself as the Nazis I knew you were. You may no longer want to hide your hate but we will not let this great nation be turned into a country to fear led by your Fuhrer with the orange hair

    • Goat—Why don’t you stop bleating around the bush and just proudly announce that you agree whole-heartedly with the white supremacy fallacy. Don’t trouble yourself with complex sentences and polysyllabic words. Just stick with the silly visuals.

      • Otto T. Goat says:

        It’s not our fault we’re supreme.

        • We? Are you that much of an ignoramus that humanity is one? “We” is a fallacy white supremacists dreamed up—due to lack of true intelligence. Passing a culturally biased test isn’t a sign of supremacy, and was devised by people who’re materialistic and lack spiritual susceptibilities.
          Besides, there is intelligence, and then there’s you who lack any intelligence that’s meaningful or measurable.

        • Otto, you’re a goat so how can you be supreme to any human? And if you are human, then you suffer from severe sexual inadequacy and you’re crippled by a sense of mental inferiority. Why else would anyone feel obsessed with IQ charts and feel the constant threat of being dwarfed by other members of the human family.
          Your mother and father must have suffered similar debilitating inadequacies. Talk to me and I may be able to help you to become more than a withered goat.

  2. AgLander says:

    Misplaced priorities……What about the storm that is already here with the anarchist alt-leftist liberal Democrats who refuse to accept a fairly won election and who continue to riot in our streets form coast to coast? Don’t worry about what MIGHT happen…..worry about what IS happening!

    • Dan S says:

      Yo Trumpie cheerleader, I’ve got a newsflash for you. These riots are a direct result from the hate spewing from the fringes of the far right. Before the election they were going to refuse the outcome if your boy lost. There was talk of taking taking up arms & pitchforks. Thanks to voter ID laws suppressing the vote of eligible voters & with repeal of the Voters Rights Act of 1965 he was able to win the EC votes but not the popular vote. Before he’s even sworn in he has a paltry 29 pct approval rating that’s guaranteed to go lower than Congess in the first year. And WTF does alt left even mean ? You people can own the alt right since you’ve earned it. And yes we do worry about what is happening. People do care about this country but a good segment of haters don’t

      • AgLander says:

        Grade school level argument and logic…….”it’s not my fault that I’m rioting, looting, burning and blocking commerce!” Your assignment is to stay after school and write “DAN IS AN IDIOT” 500 times on the blackboard!

        • Dan S says:

          Another juvenile response from a Deplorable Trump Troll. Again the violence is being perpetrated by your fellow deplorables otherwise known as Anarchists. With you mind midgets throwing gasoline on the fire the violence will only grow. Your assignment is to write 1,000 times I’m a Russian Trump Troll who doesn’t know if I’m a he or she

          • Jon says:

            I think we should stop calling them alt.right as Richard Spencer would like and call them what they are—- white supremacists. I have never heard of the moronic Russian troll’s reference to alt.left. I think he/she/it may be trying to be funny and may be a comedy writer for Putin.

          • Dan S says:

            I agree. Not sure where alt right began but like you I’m seeing alt left bandied about by the likes of AgLander & Godzilla. Both very crass & disgusting individuals with nothing to say but spew garbage. I know with White Nationalists they’re trying to normalize for who they truly are Nazis.

          • Jon says:

            You are right. Calling them alt.right, a term coined by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, glosses over who these people truly are. There are several words that more accurately and honestly describe them. Some of them are white supremacists, racists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, fascists,neo-Nazis, and armed and dangerous lunatics. There are others but alt.right should not be one of them.

        • Agatha, have you left grade school?

  3. Chrystal Myghty says:

    We are, indeed, standing on the doorstep of the apocalypse, thanks to the stupid white trash voters who have elected a fascist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic traitor, a Russian stooge, to the Presidency. Looking at the deplorable people he is putting around him in his administration, we are witnessing the destruction of our democracy and the establishment of The Fourt Reich – a fascist, athoritarian government.
    It is just a matter of time before we see the final death blows to The Voting Rights Act, reversal of Roe v. Wade, LGBT rights, including the right to same sex marriages. But, even more threatening, the neocon former Generals and strategists he has enabled will undoubtedly initiate a war with Iran, which will give reason for Putin and Russia to ally with them and WWIII, a nuclear holocaust, will almost certainly ensue.
    The white-trash American voters, in their gross naivete and abject selfish stupidity, have quite likely brought about the end of modern civilization. We are all f***ed!

    • leadvillexp says:

      White trash? You like to call names. I am a Republican, NRA Life Member and I voted for both President Bush and President Obama twice. Both were terrible in their second terms. I vote for who I think is best for our country and voted for Mr. Trump. I lived through President Clintons administration and would never vote in another Clinton. I would have given Bernie a second look if he was nominated for the Democratic Party. I don’t care about e-mails or blow jobs. I want to see what a person will do for our country. I have nothing against Muslims but don’t want to see anyone from Syria or that area of the world let into this country and that includes Christians. What is it about illegal immigrants that people don’t understand. They are “illegal”! I have supported Roe v. Wade and the LGBT movement and I think Mr. Trump will also once in office. Listen to what he has to say today. He fought a war with Hillary to get the job and won. When you fight your enemies no hold should be barred. This is why we haven’t won a war since WW2. We need to grow a thicker skin like our fathers had. We are afraid to kill civilians and that is how you win a war. We fire bombed Dresden and nuked Hiroshima and we can see the results today. Our fathers won. We are neither naivete or stupid we want someone who acts, not someone who sings Kumbaya and sees the world through rose colored glasses.

      • Lisa Kenion says:

        Really, you think Trump is gonna support Roe vie Wade when he gets in office? That is so sad. I wish that could be true, but if you look at his cabinet and staff so far, they are a bunch of satanic sharks posing as syncophants so that Trump can be mesmerized by their supposed approval of him, while they disassemble every institution we have that has a civilizing effect. Open your eyes please, your country depends on it.

      • I Am Helpy says:

        You could have saved a lot of time by just saying “I’m a racist”.

    • AgLander says:

      Crazed Hyperbole Alert!

      • I Am Helpy says:

        You shouldn’t use big words.

        • AgLander says:

          Words that a typical 6th grader understands are bit too tough for you to comprehend?! Sound like you need a little English “helpy!

          • I Am Helpy says:

            As always, I’m just trying to help you. I know that – as a high-school dropout – you are extremely insecure about your paucity of intellect.

            This is the same reason I keep urging you to not attempt comedy.

          • AgLander says:

            You remind me of a turtle that always ends up on its back while yelling….”I win!”

          • I Am Helpy says:

            OK sorry you are like this.

          • AgLander says:

            The only apology that needs to be offered is from your parents for a job horribly done!

          • I Am Helpy says:

            I can’t imagine what it would be like to be such a colossal failure that you spend all day being a racist on the internet. Why don’t you get a job? I mean, aside from the fact that you’re uneducated and unemployable and unlikeable and never mind, I figured it out.

      • I agree with “I Am Helpy”. Your attempt to use big words you’re not used to, is disingenuous and comes off stiff. Just stick to simple terms, and giving weather reports from Oman. Make me an egg salad sandwich, won’t you?

    • Jon says:

      They know not what they are doing.

    • Box says:

      Well i bow to you! It takes a certain talent to get down every single left passe cliche in such a short space! How DO they do that…………

    • Michael Allen says:

      How ironic it is to write such a hate-filled comment and have a picture of Jesus as your avatar.

  4. “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

    Donald may be extremely short on morals, contrition, and humility, but he knows suckers when he sees them. Like a shark moving in after sensing a wounded animal, Trump sensed the shallowness of those too comfortable in their cozy compounds to think clearly about their place in the universe, and went for the jugular like a true predator. “Truthful hyperbole” was very effective in reeling in the fish.

  5. tommie.walsh says:

    It’s been one year since I decided to quit my previous job and i couldn’t be happier now… I started doing a job from home, over a site I found online, for several hours /a day, and I profit now much more than i did on my previous work… Paycheck i got for last month was for $9k… Awesome thing about this job is the more time i got for my kids… http://chilp.it/8d93f4b

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