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Trumpism without Trump


A big question of the moment is where the Republican party is going to go without Donald Trump in the presidency. First, a couple of preliminary things:

(1) A little humility is in order in regard to the answer to this highly speculative question, especially from all the people who were so certain Trump could never win the GOP nomination four years ago, and who were even more certain that this election would be a Dem blowout.

(2) Before answering it, we need to have some idea of what “Trumpism” even means.

As to the latter, here’s what seems to me to be Trumpism’s most salient characteristics:

*Open white supremacy

*Open nativism

*Open misogyny

*Open contempt for experts, intellectuals, universities, etc.

*Open embrace of reactionary Christianity as the informal state religion

*Open hatred of independent journalism

*Open authoritarianism

*A cult of personality organized around a celebrity

The key concept here, obviously, is “open.” With the partial exception of the last item in this list, Trumpism is simply movement conservatism with the mask ripped off. But the latter point is absolutely crucial: The whole appeal of Trumpism to the Republican base is precisely that it’s an open rejection of progressive shibboleths of every kind.

I’ve long believed that the central organizing principle of movement conservatism was a wholesale rejection of “political correctness,” now rebranded as “cancel culture,” and “social justice.” Trump provided an 180-proof version of this.

What the money men who have always run the Republican party figured out over the past five years is that an effective way to push their plutocratic agenda was to go along for the ride as Trump continually stoked the cultural resentments of the GOP base, which is now completely dominated by religious reactionaries, still overwhelmingly but far from exclusively white religious reactionaries (evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics).

All the current talk about replacing Trump with a kinder gentler version of the same thing — with a minimally competent bureaucrat who didn’t tweet outrageous things seven times a day — is in my view delusional, since in by far the most important sense that wouldn’t be the same thing at all.

The lesson the GOP seems to be drawing from the 2020 election is that there’s basically no penalty to them for throwing in with Trump. He almost won: 100,000 votes in three states is basically a coin flip outcome, just as in 2016. Moreover, I would hazard a guess that, if per noted political philosopher Herschel Walker’s ingenious suggestion we just dealt with all this controversy about a rigged election by holding it again, Trump would have about a coin flip’s chance of winning, despite or perhaps rather because of his behavior over the past three weeks (Trump’s fans love above all that he’s “a fighter” you see: the fact that he’s trying to steal an election he lost is a positive in their eyes, for the same reason that people genuinely like Tony Soprano).

So what happens now?

First, does Trump run again in 2024? I think it’s likely he will, and sunny predictions that either his health or the criminal justice system won’t let him are likely wrong. As for his health his brains are already farina, and his body is likely not to give out for another decade or two despite his horrible habits (By far the most important predictor of this kind of thing is genetics, and both of Trump’s parents lived a long long time). As for criminal justice, we don’t do that kind of thing for rich or even apparently rich white people, especially ex-presidents, and I expect the federal government to do basically nothing in this regard, although there’s some faint hope that state prosecutions go somewhere.

But if he doesn’t run for whatever reason, I fully expect the 2024 nominee to be somebody who essentially replicates the Trump playbook in its most important particulars, which are contained in the list above. That’s what GOP voters want, much more than they care about any concrete policy agenda beyond instantiating cultural and especially religious reaction in opposition to anything liberals and progressives value.

The most likely successors to Trump come from three categories.

Conventional Politicians

I think the big favorite here is Josh Hawley. While I think the whole concept of “charisma” is badly overrated — who ever finds a politician whose views they hate charismatic? — it’s not a completely empty idea, so that pretty much rules out Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, among the most plausible challengers. Nikki Haley is a girl and not very white so forget her, though she’ll probably be the coming cycle’s version of Ben Carson or Herman Cain.

Dynastic Successors

I tend to think Ivanka is more likely than Jr., despite what I just said about Haley. Cocaine is a hell of a drug after all.

Celebrity Apprentices

Tucker Carlson is the chalk pick here. I’d say the odds of this happening are around 20 percentish.

Anyway, whether Trump himself is around for much longer or not, what he represents very much is here to stay, and nothing illustrates that better than the incredibly — and by incredibly I mean totally predictable — corrupt and opportunistic reaction of the entire GOP establishment to his post-election tantrum/coup attempt.

. . . The comment thread to this post is really good and depressing the hell out of me. On reflection it probably is going to be some celebrity screamer that we can’t even imagine right now. Tucker Carlson is now like light beer for these people.

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