The election will soon be over, and it’s likely that Trump will lose. Once it’s over, we need to understand what happened and why, in order to understand what will follow.
The core of Trumpism is a highly authoritarian movement that wants a leader with unprecedented power. This is a small group compared with the number of voters who simply consider Trump less bad than Clinton, though progressives keep inflating its importance by ascribing its motives to every Trump voter.
It’s a significant group, though, and when a movement like that arises, it’s because people are feeling desperate. Why are there people who want to put so much power into the hands of a thug? The economy isn’t that bad. Americans aren’t getting killed in huge numbers; in fact, we’re about as safe from violence as we’ve ever been in history. But people at least think there’s reason to take desperate measures.
Let’s throw one thing out at the start. Racism is not an immensely popular doctrine in the United States, in spite of claims that it has widespread or even unanimous support. I don’t know whether Trump is a racist or not; he finds the support of white supremacist groups useful, but he’s an opportunist who doesn’t much care where he gets support. That’s not the explanation.
One major factor is that the country has been on a war footing for fifteen years. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize and then became the first president in history to preside over two complete terms of undeclared war. People are tired of an unwinnable war, but few people are calling for an end to it. It feels like national humiliation, so people listen to Trump’s call to “make America great again.” He doesn’t offer a plan to do that, but he promotes hostility to people of the wrong nationality or religion. He takes advantage of people’s resentments. He provides a Great Leader to march behind.
We can expect others to play on the same themes; the longer the US tries to fix other countries with military intervention, the more frustrated people will get. Unfortunately, Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton makes Obama look as if he deserved that Peace Prize. We can only expect more wars in the next four years.
Another factor is that people’s constant political battles to loot and control one another have gotten worse. It used to be that politicians would make different promises to each group and get away with it; now the Internet reveals to software engineers in New Hampshire that politicians are handing money to farmers in Iowa, and to farmers in Iowa that they’re subsidizing rich owners of sports stadiums in New York.
On top of that, both Democrats and Republicans support legal coercion to make people conform to their ideas of proper behavior. Progressivism is what used to be falsely called liberalism, minus any pretense of liberal (pro-freedom) ideas. Politicians in general are more despised than ever; people might as well support an undisguised power-luster. Trump has merely leapfrogged the progressives’ authoritarianism.
Clinton has occasionally addressed Trump’s quest for personal power, but it’s been a secondary point. In the closing days before the election, she isn’t offering an alternative vision to all Americans, but falling back on group politics. What could she offer? “I’m not going to rip your freedom away as thoroughly as Trump” isn’t an inspiring slogan.
As I said last time, though, there are signs of a genuinely liberal movement that can take on progressivism, Trumpism, and religious conservatism. It has a long way to go, but it’s stronger than it used to be. The state of perpetual war is the ground where Trumpist weeds are flourishing, but it could also be the ground for an antiwar movement that would strengthen the liberal coalition.
Whoever wins, the election is just a measure of where the culture is going. The battle is one of ideas, and that keeps going until censorship becomes the norm. It keeps going after that, in fact, even if it’s in hiding.