After Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire primary last week, I read two articles that are simultaneously very different and very accurate.
The first, by Ezra Klein. He goes after Trump for his obvious racism, demagoguery, and thuggishness:
Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.
Trump is in serious contention to win the Republican presidential nomination. His triumph in a general election is unlikely, but it is far from impossible. He’s not a joke and he’s not a clown. He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.
This line of attack is obvious, but it’s also very important, and not spoken enough. Too many of the chattering class talk around what they know Trump really is but avoid calling him out directly. Or they only focus on the horse race itself, debating how the latest outrage will affect the polls, rather than the outrage itself.
The second article is more interesting. It’s an article by David Frum that hits at the why behind Trump’s victory.
On the Republican side, the upset was, if possible, even more stunning. For 20 years and more, Republican presidential contests have operated as a policy cartel. Concerns that animate actual Republican voters—declining middle-class wages, immigration, retirement security—have been tacitly ruled out of bounds. Concerns that excite Republican donors—tax cuts, entitlement reforms—have been more-or-less unanimously accepted by all plausible candidates. Candidates competed on their life stories, on their networks of friends, and on their degree of religious commitment—but none who aspired to run a national campaign deviated much from the economic platform of the Wall Street Journal and the Club for Growth.
This year’s Republican contest, however, has proved a case study of Sigmund Freud’s “return of the repressed.” Republicans, it turns out, also worry about losing health care. They also want to preserve Social Security and Medicare in roughly their present form. They believe that immigration has costs, and that those costs are paid by people like them—even as its benefits flow to employers, investors, and foreigners. They know that their personal situation is deteriorating, and they interpret that to mean (as who wouldn’t?) that the country is declining, too. “Hope,” “growth,” “opportunity,” “choice”—those have long since dwindled to sinister euphemisms for “less,” “worse,” and “not for you.”
I truly don’t know how the Republican primary will turn out. Not long ago, I didn’t think Trump would win a single state, despite his poll numbers. Now we’re in a spot where if Trump can win South Carolina, it becomes much more difficult to see how he doesn’t go on to win it all.
Both views of Trump expressed above are serious stuff. It’s important to confront demagogues when they appear, but it’s also important that “meainstream” politicians stop ignoring the decline of middle class living standards and start addressing them head on.