There’s been a lot of talk this election about the crack-up inside the GOP coalition that produced Trump’s candidacy. These conversations usually focus on issues – immigration, trade, etc. – and ignore the deeper Id of American voters. But as we enter the last stages of one of our nation’s most vitriolic elections, it’s time to peel back the curtain of the Red Tent and understand the forces that have set the stage for this moment.
We Have an Illusion of National Culture
The modern media have created a mirage of shared culture. The reality is that the global news, entertainment, and technology industries are now concentrated in a small number of cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and it is their regional values that are broadcast nationally.
To some extent, this has always been the case, but now the local news outlets that filtered information for the tastes of regional audiences have mostly been eliminated. Without these local intermediaries, we are left in a nation where one set of values – those of large coastal cities – are the only ones represented in movies, television shows, and the vast majority of news reporting. The result is the illusion that the regional culture of these cities is a national culture.
This has important implications for how Americans in different regions view one-another and might also explain why Democrats have dominated recent Presidential elections, while being pulverized in state, local, and Congressional elections.
Local Events Have Been Nationalized
Because journalism is now nationally consolidated, we confuse local and national problems. The best example is the most controversial: Many Americans see clashes between African-Americans and police officers in a handful of cities and conclude that race relations nationwide are in a historic decline. This probably isn’t the case, but because we now experience local tragedies as a nation, we have begun to assume that all of our communities ail from the same problems and must, therefore, be treated with the same medicine.
This is an unwinnable war. By design, the Federal Government is ill equipped to deal with local problems. That voters expect it to anyway is adding to a sense of frustration with government, even when it functions precisely as designed.
Business Interests Are Re-Aligning
The truism that business sides with Republicans is washing away. According to OpenSecrets, a website that tracks corporate political contributions, donations from the manufacturing, energy, agricultural, and construction industries remain lopsidedly Republican; while contributions from law, communications, media, labor groups, and technology industries are lopsidedly Democratic.
This is important because most of the 21st Century’s growth industries are the blue ones. America’s new upper class isn’t emerging from traditional fields so much as the knowledge-based tech, media, and service industries of the coasts. This trend is shifting the GOP into a party of upper-middle class shopkeepers and their hired help, while the Democratic Party blends into an alliance of the underclass and the uber rich. Neither party’s traditional policy positions can sustainably service these coalitions, and though the GOP’s dramatic implosion has over-shadowed Democratic infighting, it’s impossible to see Bernie Sanders’ candidacy as anything other than a first act of a similar liberal re-alignment.
The Referees Are Dead
Traditionally, journalists and academics have served as referees that held politicians accountable and explained the stakes of policy decisions to the public.
This is no longer the case. Americans now have record-low trust in the media, which probably explains why the negative coverage focused on Donald Trump hasn’t stopped him. The media have become so transparently biased that no one cares what it says anymore. Whether it’s talk radio, cable news, or the blogosphere, voters seem to accept that journalists of all ideologies are no longer calling a fair game.
The same goes for Academia, whose decision to wade into ancillary culture wars and to clamp down on campus free speech has amputated its ability to influence civil society anywhere right of center.
Not all of this is the fault of newsmen and professors. Modern government is so complex that “facts” themselves are elusive. Still, the futility of “Fact Check Donald Trump” comes back to a basic point: Voters no longer trust the refs. In the absence of reliable “facts,” people are choosing to make up their own.
The Bad Guys Are Conservatives
During the Cold War, the nexus of evil on planet was the Soviet Union, an oppressive empire rooted in extreme leftism.
Now the Western World is faced with evil born from extreme conservatism. Religious fanatics in militant Islam and monarchic rulers like Vladimir Putin are the global boogeymen. The worst-case scenario in our imagination looks a lot more Republican than Democrat.
The Stakes Are Higher
The Second Term of the Obama Administration has targeted conservative institutions, not conservative ideas. This is an important shift.
In politics, we’re used to squabbling over things like tax and regulatory policies; but in the last four years, the progressive vanguard has taken on the institutions that define traditional American communities. This list includes Christianity, the police, the military, the NFL, traditional marriage, and masculinity; as well as occupations in mining, energy, banking, and petrochemical refining that are core industries in red states. The point is that conservatives are no longer defending their favorite tax shelters. They’re defending their way of life.
Soldiers talk about the difficulty of fighting an army defending its homeland. Battles like Stalingrad and Okinawa illustrate the savagery men resort to when their homes are in jeopardy.
Why then is it surprising that when faced with war, conservatives chose a strongman to punch back? That’s an ancient tradition in democracy, dating back to the Roman Republic, which, when faced with an existential threat, elected a dictator to marshal its forces and repel its foes.