Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ross Douthat's Electric Slide

GIF by ifoundabritty.
That Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, is such a sneaky guy! Here he is ("Trump and the Madness of Crowds") chewing yet again through the mystery of how an apparently nonconservative person such as Donald J. Trump seems to be capturing the apparently conservative Republican party:

1. They aren't really that conservative:

This [the party's refusal to nominate "mavericks" thought to be not purely conservative from McCain through Kasich] doesn’t mean that all Republican voters care about the conservative movement’s goals and shibboleths. Many clearly don’t, and it was obvious that there was an underserved constituency for policy heterodoxy among Republican voters — especially working-class voters— long before Trump came on the scene.
"Working-class voters" there being code for white men who couldn't go to or at least finish college before they moved into the workforce—Reihan Salam, in the article Douthat links, is a little more honest, referring to "white working-class voters" who "will not simply line up behind the candidates selected for them by hedge-funders and industrialists during the 'invisible primary'". And particularly those who did in fact make it more or less successfully into the workforce—poor whites, with family incomes under $30,000, tend a little more to vote for Democrats, and working-class people in general, including people of all races, tend strongly for Democrats, whether you list them by education level (some college or less) or income (under $50,000). This is important.

2. But then again they are:

But there was also a fair amount of political-science evidence that the Republicans really were a more ideological party than the Democrats, less inclined to view compromise in favorable terms, more inclined to regard politics through a philosophical rather than an interest-group service lens.
So it's a mystery!

Except there's where Ross makes his electric slide move: changing the subject without cluing the reader in to the fact. The previous paragraph was about voters (Republican and Republican-leaning), and this one is about party, which is a very different thing, as you can learn in some detail if you follow that link, to a March 2015 article in Perspectives on Politics by Matt Grossman and David A. Hopkins.

American voters, as Grossman and Hopkins explain, align in different ways depending on the questions you ask them. You already know this: asked their views on general ideological attitude, they tend to be rather "conservative", self-identifying as not liberal and suspicious of government; but asked their views on specific policy issues—health, environment, education, macroeconomics, welfare, energy, labor—they break very strongly on the liberal side. Voters as individuals tend to have a politically divided personality, with a reality side that is relatively liberal and a symbolic side that is relatively conservative.

But the major parties—the organizations and the people who run and manage them, or as Ross calls them, "the opportunists, the cowards, the sleepwalkers"—each focus on only one side of the picture: The Democrats more or less bottom-up, representing the interests of their varied constituent groups, on the policy side, with little strong ideological content, and the Republicans top-down, representing their own stern philosophical outlook, with a fairly weak repertoire of policy ideas. And the voters they attract reflect that division, the more reality-oriented going for the Democrats and the more symbolism-oriented for the Republicans.

The converse being that those who are totally uninterested in symbolism and ideology are likely to go for the Democrats too, including all those awful transactional figures like Rahm Emmanuel, and those who are totally baffled by policy can wind up with the Republicans, because the only things they get in the speech are America is the greatest country in the world and get off my lawn.

By slipping past the point of the Grossman and Hopkins paper, the Monsignor is able to miss the fact that the Trump voter is the most Republican of all in that sense, the one animated purely by animus.

He can go on looking for more people to blame (today it's the media, or even gawdhelpus the panditry, for failing to see it coming), but his opportunists and cowards and sleepwalkers are the people who shaped the party into a vehicle for cutting rich people's taxes and consolidating corporate power against the state, hidden behind the altar of a vast cathedral of white-guy nativism and sexual anxiety, hung about with American flags. Trump is exactly what they deserve.

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