I felt for the first time on Sunday that Donald Trump might actually win the US presidential election. I’m not the only one moving in that direction. Hillary Clinton looks in bad shape, and while it’s one thing to be seen as dishonest, to be dishonest and sickly is not a great combination.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 15, 2016
September 11, 2016 was, as Damian Thompson says, the day the conspiracy theorists were proved correct, for once. Conspiracies about Hillary’s health were popular not just because the Clintons have consistently been dishonest throughout their career. It’s also because the American media has become far more partisan, and major publications and news channels have seemed to drop all pretence of impartiality in this election. As a result, trust in the media has fallen significantly in recent years. General social trust in the US has fallen dramatically in the past few decades, which also makes the country’s politics ripe for such conspiracies.
One unquestionably good thing about a Trump victory would be a fourth estate in opposition to the government, which is far healthier than the obsequiousness of the Obama era; this courtly attitude is magnified in Great Britain, where the current US president has almost never been the target of any satire or ridicule. Imagine what BBC comedy would be like if Trump wins.
But even if Trump loses, and he is an extraordinary bad candidate in many ways, Trumpism as a political stance is likely to survive. In fact it may do better if he fails and a future candidate without his flaws emerges.
In his cover piece this week, Christopher Caldwell writes about how the Obama era didn’t present closure for America’s racial divide but was instead an acceleration of its political chasm along racial, cultural and class lines:
For most whites, Obama has not been a confidence-builder. The idea that white Americans carried in their minds when they passed the civil rights laws in the 1960s was that black people would both join white society and forgive it. Obama’s election was therefore seen by many as the final act of the civil rights movement. That it should instead institutionalise and even bring a new élan to government programmes that most citizens had thought temporary was a shock. At the same time, white demographic decline has been accompanied in many quarters with official exultation. The promise is not to enrich white America with new ethnicities but to replace it. A Black Lives Matter-affiliated group to whose protests the Yale University faculty capitulated last year calls itself ‘Next Yale’.
Any system of race-based transfers and rights will eventually polarise voters along racial lines, even with the best will in the world. Ron Christie, an aide to the racially sensitive George W. Bush, recently praised his former boss for having pursued ‘a strategy that awarded him the double-digit support of blacks’. Yes! After losing black voters to Al Gore in the 2000 election by 90 per cent to 9 per cent, Bush worked tirelessly to clear the air with black leaders, focused on race issues, and managed to lose to Kerry four years later by only 88 to 11. Woohoo!
In the last election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney among blacks 93 to six, and lost to Romney among whites by 59 per cent to 39. One can applaud any of these people morally if one wants, but politicians are in the business of winning votes. Would this year’s Republican nominee be better advised to try to quintuple the vote among a small group that hates him? Or use persuasion to shift by a few per cent the large group that is loyal to him?
In the US, whites have declined from around 90 per cent a lifetime ago to under 70 per cent today, and are set to become a minority at some point in the mid-century. At the same time politics has become far more polarised and while partisan divisions are now far more bitter than racial ones (more people than ever would object to a family member marrying a member of the other side), the Republican Party has become in effect the white party, or more accurately the non-elite white party. In contrast the Democratic Party has evolved into what blogger Steve Sailer calls the ‘coalition of the fringes’, an alliance of rich, urban whites and minorities.
It is because this coalition is so fragile that social justice politics has become increasingly shrill in its denunciations of ‘white males’ and ‘white privilege’ or ‘toxic whiteness’, which only further entrenches the opposition. This is a unifying strategy because for minorities this works on racial grievances, and for upmarket whites it’s a chance to bash their social inferiors. It was Sailer who pointed out a while back that the Republican Party could best win by attracting more middle and lower-middle class whites, since this was the demographic least at home with the Democrats today – and this seems to have been precisely what Trump is doing.
Poor whites don’t even need to have anything economically to gain from a Trump victory; there is almost nothing that can be done about the sort of globalisation that has lost American jobs to Asia, for instance, but then this might not matter. Trump voters aren’t necessarily being stupid. Most political analysts only see things in economic terms, but it may be that voters believe that reducing economically beneficial immigration may be a price worth paying for an increased sense of self-respect and trust. Likewise wealthy liberals see diversity and other progressive issues as a core part of their values so the costs – whether it’s higher taxes or urban crime – are worth paying for. Economists might find this illogical, but as Brexit showed, in the 21st century it’s not the economy, stupid.