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Does the rise of Donald Trump mark a new era in American politics?


My post below notes that, despite his unconventional open racism/nativism — not to mention his open and explicit misogyny, which I should have — and his gestures at economic populism, Trump performed in the general exactly as one would expect a bog standard Republican to perform under current electoral conditions in the US.  This would suggest that, in the general, the net effect of all the racism/sexism/nativism/fake populism was close to zero, winning him some votes and losing him some in roughly equal measures.

Another thing I should have mentioned, as several commenters pointed out, is that even if Trump’s unconventional message had little or no net effect in the general, it certainly made a huge difference in the primary, where he beat out a host of bog standard Republicans precisely because he was openly racist etc. I think one reason Trump’s win was such a shock was that many people expected that a deplorable strategy that was a winner in a multi-candidate primary dominated by an increasingly unhinged Republican base would be a sure-fire loser in the general.

Since this is a holiday weekend, I’m going to invoke the lazy blogger’s fundamental constitutional right to highlight some really interesting and thought-provoking comments asked by three LGM commenters, to start a discussion on the questions and issues they raise.

Jim Harrison:

The problem is not the lack of a Democratic policy agenda. Clinton ran on a platform that would have changed a great many lives for the better. She had specific ideas about everything. Nobody heard ’em above the din. It’s incredibly difficult to communicate even widely appealing proposals when the media talking heads would rather swallow their tongues than talk for two minutes a night about actual issues. People bewail the dire effects of Fox and Sinclair, but CNN and the other networks are a deeper problem.

The problem isn’t ideological. The journalists believe, rightly or wrongly, that focusing on noise and nonsense is a commercial necessity. They are (or think they are) like 19th Century mill owners who don’t exploit their workers out of the darkness of their hearts, but because they need to squeeze them to remain in business at all. Demagogic politics seems like a natural consequence of the organization of the media under the current version of capitalism.


The key to Donald Trump’s political success is “The Apprentice.” He pretended to be a business executive on a very dumb game show that entirely too many people believed really was unscripted. Take away the game show, and he’s a failed developer of tacky real estate. The game show gave him the platform to yell about Obama’s birth certificate and thereby grab the racist vote.

For good or ill, people like stars. Trump was on TV, ergo Trump was brilliant. That’s going to be how 21st century politics is played; who’s been on TV the most? This is catastrophic for women who just can’t be good on camera past age 40 or so. It’s beyond catastrophic for anyone with a disability. It’s something we’re going to have to face and manage.

Eric Scharf:

History has no beginning and no end, but I have long felt that the epistemic rupture that has made politics impossible neatly correlates with the rise and domination of reality television as a mode of cultural expression. Obviously there is selection bias in the circles of people with whom I interact, but I never felt that the popularity of, say, professional wrestling ever presented a cognitive-social hazard to the dismaying degree that Survivor and American Idol have. This was of course accelerated by the 2007 WGA strike.

The ability to believe that any of those shows are unscripted seems too conveniently necessary for believing that W won the 2000 election, that Saudi Arabia wants democracy in the Middle East, that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, that torture provides useful intelligence, that New Orleans was destroyed by looters, that vaccines cause autism, that billionaire CEOs must be smart enough to deserve their wealth, that Obama was born in Kenya, that Sarah Palin is an adult, that people who can’t pay their mortgages deserve to be homeless, that police officers always objectively assess the threat posed by black people, that not-for-profit healthcare will result in waiting two years for knee surgery, that women routinely make false harassment and rape claims, that immigrants are the chief threat to our security and prosperity, that email server management is the best criterion by which to judge political candidates, and of course that climate change is a liberal hoax.

Now excuse me while I go throw up for a few hours before a certain American football game.


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