Donald Trump and America’s new political path

A meditation on Donald Trump and political realignment …

I’m not alone in wondering why we haven’t experienced a political realignment in the past decade or so.

If the purpose of a political system is to govern effectively, both national parties must be judged long-term failures. Our political gridlock is only the logical outcome of a dysfunctional system more interested in scoring rhetorical points and demonstrating ideological correctness than actually getting something done. Poll after poll has shown ordinary Americans are in response increasingly disconnected, alienated, disaffected.

But political realignments are very, very rare. It’s not at all easy to uproot a long-standing political system that spreads its tendrils root and branch from Washington to Lansing to Marquette County. The last big realignment came in reaction to the earth-shaking events of the Great Depression and World War II, later augmented by the civil rights movement.

This is more of a guess than a prediction, but I think we’re entering a period of political realignment that’s responding to fundamentally new realities that are hitting every citizen over the head every day and seem impervious to any individual’s ability to say “Stop!”

The Internet and Social Media: The web killed the mainstream media as the institution that defined and propagated generally accepted fact. It’s replaced Walter Cronkite and the New York Times with a splintered cacophony of blogs in which everybody on a computer keyboard is a publisher and nobody is an editor. Most people now get their “news” (if you can call it that) via social media, often instantly parceled out in 140-character tweets that provoke mostly knee-jerk reaction to visceral stimulus.

It may well be that the country became essentially ungovernable ever since cell phones became ubiquitous and flash mobs could be created in moments out of thin air. Intermediating social institutions that traditionally help absorb shocks ‒ church, neighborhood, family – are hobbled by political and social movements (not to mention rumors) that propagate in a matter of hours.

Terrorism: Triumphant beheadings and wholesale violations of civilized behavior are the stuff of certain strain of Islamic fundamentalism. Paris and Brussels. The World Trade Center and San Bernardino. Nearly three quarters of Americans now believe we will be hit again by more terror incidents. And the waves of immigration now sweeping around the world – think Mexico, think Europe and the Middle East – are essentially doing away with the old notion of secure borders.

Whether terrorism is of the Islamic variety or inflicted merely by crazy people, the compounding fact is that essentially anybody who wants can now get a semiautomatic weapon about as easily as going down to the corner store for a quart of milk.

But every fundamentally new thing requires a personalized carrier to make it real, to focus attention and to ride the tiger of unprecedented change. Enter Donald Trump.

I won’t go into just what Trump is saying – I can’t keep up with what’s spewing out of his mouth day after day. But it isn’t the content; it’s his emotional appeal that is so powerful.

From the time Trump became a candidate, the political wise guys have said, “Just you wait, he’ll fold.” Well, he hasn’t. In fact, he gets stronger the more outrageous things he says. The weekend’s CBA-New York times poll had him at 35 percent of probable Republican voters, nearly doubling Ted Cruz’s 20 percent. Frank Luntz, just about the smartest political analyst of them all, emerged over the weekend from a three-hour focus group, saying that he had never seen anything like it. “Each time you say something critical or nasty, Trump’s approval goes up again.”

Trump is a perfectly designed carrier of the political realignment virus. He’s deeply experienced on TV, with a fantastic ability to draw attention to himself. His campaign is so far largely self-funded, so he doesn’t have to pander to the billionaires and graybeards of the establishment. As a practical matter, if you’re not a billionaire or a corporate titan or the head of a big union, the establishment political system isn’t much interested in listening. And it sure looks as though the heavies of the establishment don’t seem to have managed very well the things that are shaking our world today. Trump taps into the fear and alarm of many people – and not just no-college-degreed white males – who are scared of what’s happening in the world today and see no ability in the political establishment to cope.

Think about it. The Democrats are largely out of ideas, with President Obama standing on the sidelines, wringing his hands. The Republicans are caught in a self-purifying ideological whirlwind of conservative purity. No wonder Trump’s favorite insult is “weak”. To folks who are confused and scared, it’s a very powerful word.

I’d guess Trump will gain more and more strength as time goes on. He may well get to the Republican convention with a plurality of delegates pledged to him. If GOP topsiders manipulate the convention to deny him the nomination, he’ll bolt, start a new party and ruin Republican changes next fall. If they stick with him, they’re in a narcissistic and unpredictable briar patch that likely will split the party. They can’t win with him. They can’t win without him.

I’d guess a long game available to Trumpism is to foment an anti-establishment movement that will drive experienced pols, both Democratic and Republican, together into a new fusion party. Because conventional political divisions of right and left arose historically from economic debates stemming from the Depression, the emerging new world of politics won’t be right versus left, but it’s likely to contrast the nativist know-nothings of a new mass movement with the experienced pols of the elite establishment.

I’m 77, so I probably won’t live long enough to see how all this plays out. But I’ll be fascinated to watch for as long as I’m able.

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Comments

Mike Grant
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 9:43am
Yet another piece that casts aspersions on both parties, apparently in the name of journalistic balance, while only providing any actual evidence that one of the parties is off the rails. "Democrats are largely out of ideas", eh? Certainly they're out of ideas that would make it through the current House, but that's not really saying much. The main legislative success (ACA) was formerly one supported by the Republicans. Probably don't have to look very hard for other policy prescriptions supported by the Democrats that also were formerly supported by the Republicans. Carbon trading? When Republicans appear willing to move further and further to the fringe right-wing I don't know why we should expect (or want) the Democrats to necessarily go with them.
KG-1
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 10:02am
"Whether terrorism is of the Islamic variety or inflicted merely by crazy people, the compounding fact is that essentially anybody who wants can now get an automatic weapon about as easily as going down to the corner store for a quart of milk. "Interesting position considering that not more than a few paragraphs earlier, Mr. Power, you were lamenting the fact that the internet has surpassed the mainstream media in disseminating generally accepted fact. In the interest of fairness, please elaborate your trip to the corner store to by a quart of milk, while lawfully conforming to the regulations promulgated by the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and let's not forget the Hughes Amendment in 1986 to buy said milk after purchasing an automatic firearm? So unless you want wish to cite "Bowling for Columbine" as the sole source for this "fact", it should make for a very interesting read in your next Bridge column.
David L Richards
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 9:06am
Perhaps a definition of hyperbole according to Google would help: "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally." synonyms: exaggeration, overstatement, magnification, embroidery, embellishment, . . .; One shouldn't quibble about hyperbole when the point being made is quite accurate.
KG-1
Wed, 12/23/2015 - 1:03pm
Care to put that statement to the test and take my Kroger run/gun store challenge?
Gottfried Brieger
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 10:39am
Phil, Despair regarding the shenanigans of the politicians in Washington is endemic, but nothing new. I'm sorry you did not mention some other major contributing factors in the economy, especially applicable to Michigan. More than a third of the populations in dozens of Michigan towns consist of the working poor. One the other hand the Walton family is accumulating around $150 billion, merely siting around being heirs of Sam. Good old England long ago decided that hanging onto your worldly goods indefinitely is not such a good idea, and made it difficult to retain such absurd income differentials. We're not ready for a revolution, like the French of old, but, believe me, the people will wake up one day. Right now Trump is merely the vehicle to let out the extreme frustration with the status quo.
Eric Sharp
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 10:55am
It's probably impossible to overestimate the effects of a failed public education system on America's current political and social malaise. Today we spend far more on each student in real dollars than we did 50 years ago, yet graduation rates and proficiency in reading and math are far lower. We created charter schools whose primary beneficiaries are the universities that administer them and the bureaucrats who run them. In our modern technology we've created devices that would have seem nearly magical to people living 100 years ago. And yet most people use them not for getting reliable information or learning but for playing video games, watching moronic television shows and passing unfounded internet rumors to equally uninformed acquaintances. It's no accident that the lower a person's education level, the more likely that person is to support Donald Trump. And that lack of education also translates into a higher likelihood of xenophobia, rejection of global warming, advocacy of racism and support for inane wars based on fallacies, corporate greed and political corruption.
Roger Martin
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 12:45pm
Could not have said it better, Eric.
Charles Richards
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 2:12pm
Mr. Sharp is correct when he laments the decline in the quality of our education. He is incorrect about charter schools. Stanford University put out a well-regarded report that said urban charter schools do much better than their public school counterparts. And he is correct when he says of modern technology: "And yet most people use them not for getting reliable information or learning but for playing video games, watching moronic television shows and passing unfounded internet rumors to equally uninformed acquaintances." That would indicate that our troubles flow from a citizenry that is unwilling or unable to devote energy and thought to public policy. Too many people prefer to think in simple, black and white terms rather than in shades of gray. They find tradeoffs between good things too difficult to contemplate, preferring to think in terms of absolutes.
Duane
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 8:03pm
I am concerned that the education system has lost sight of the role/responsibilities of the student in their learning process. All we hear about is money, teachers, schools, and who to blame. The students seem to have become [over the last 50 years] just an excuse for all the 'experts' to opine on educatoin and request more of other people's money to spend. There are some students who are succeeding, why aren't the 'experts' talking to them about learing, asking why and how they succeed?
John Q. Public
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 9:45pm
That question has been asked, answered, and the message delivered many times over, Duane. It has nearly nothing to do with how or by whom lessons are delivered during school hours and almost everything to do with how and with whom students live outside of school, which is outside the realm of most achievable public policy.
Duane
Wed, 12/16/2015 - 4:05pm
Please send me a link to the information about the students and their roles/responsibilities. Is it just the people they live with or does it include their their social circles?
Jo Ann
Wed, 12/16/2015 - 1:58pm
Agreed.
MN
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 11:14am
Bernie Sanders has a wealth of practical proposals that cut to the heart of the economic troubles that underlie so many of our other social ills. Call it Capitalism with a Human Face, rather than Democratic Socialism, if you will. I am disappointed that you ignor his agenda.
Jo Ann
Wed, 12/16/2015 - 2:03pm
I appreciate his agenda. However, he and his agenda will never win over a majority of current voters. Maybe after two more voting cycles his agenda will prevail. I cannot even envision what our country - or our world - will resemble by then.
Steve Olsen
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 11:29am
"Whether terrorism is of the Islamic variety or inflicted merely by crazy people, the compounding fact is that essentially anybody who wants can now get an automatic weapon about as easily as going down to the corner store for a quart of milk." NOT in the United States, automatic firearms are illegal to everyone except the government and have been for a long time. Please stop misinforming the public with "facts" that are not facts at all.
Nancy Derringer
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 11:54am
Steve (and KG-1, above) -- Thanks for the clarification. Yes, automatic weapons are illegal. Semiautomatic weapons are not. I made the change from full-auto to semi-auto (if you will) in the copy, and am leaving "as easy as a quart of milk" part intact, as it's obviously a rhetorical statement. Apologies for the oversight. Nancy Derringer staff writer (and ad hoc editor, this morning)
KG-1
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 3:56pm
"...Thanks for the clarification. Yes, automatic weapons are illegal. Semiautomatic weapons are not. I made the change from full-auto to semi-auto (if you will) in the copy, and am leaving “as easy as a quart of milk” part intact, as it’s obviously a rhetorical statement...""Whether terrorism is of the Islamic variety or inflicted merely by crazy people, the compoundingfact is that essentially anybody who wants can now get an automatic weapon about as easily as going down to the corner store for a quart of milk."Ms. Derringer, I may have been born at night, but it certainly wasn't last night. Mr. Power's comments were not rhetorical by any means. They were clearly a dig at a clearly enumerated Constitutional Right and were buried within his comments regarding the growing Islamic Terrorist threat to our country in the hope that it would be readily overlooked by readers. Obviously, it was not. I would also ask that you or whomever is assuming the editorial duties at The Bridge at the time to remember this (it keeps popping up whenever people go onto your home page, so it shouldn't be too hard): "Keep non-partisan, fact-based journalism alive in Michigan." I'll challenge anyone from TCFM to go out and buy a firearm (either automatic or semi-automatic) from a gun store, while I go and run into Kroger to buy a gallon of milk. Care to wager who will leave the store first?
Matt
Wed, 12/16/2015 - 11:54am
While I appreciate and applaud Nancy's willingness and ability to correct factual errors like this and many other areas, the galling part of this is how many "opinion" leaders in fact hold them and are allowed to throw them out without any correction or rebut what so ever and allowed to settle into the public knowledge base. Maybe this should be part of what Phil should be lamenting?
Charles Richards
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 2:40pm
Mr. Power is mistaken when he says, "As a practical matter, if you’re not a billionaire or a corporate titan or the head of a big union, the establishment political system isn’t much interested in listening." If that were the case, why would politicians conduct focus groups and pay for polls? The very essence of modern politics is to assemble a coalition of different demographic groups of sufficient size to win elections. We senior citizens are a prime example. Robert Samuelson, of the Washington Post, has often written about programs for older citizens crowding out all other government programs. That is certainly a case of the political establishment listening. And he is incorrect when he says, " Because conventional political divisions of right and left arose historically from economic debates stemming from the Depression, " Right and left divisions long predate the Depression. It would be more productive to think of our politics as being divided along top-down versus bottom-up. Liberals and progressives labor under the illusion that they can gain superior results with top down measures. That they are capable of "running" a society. Conservatives are more aware of their limitations and the impossibility for foreseeing all the consequences of large scale initiatives. They prefer to let the world evolve on its own, being content to keep people from imposing costs on other people.
David Richards
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 8:50am
Focus groups and opinion polls are not necessarily used to determine the goals of elected officials and candidates. They can be used to determine how to sell whatever candidates and elected officials want to sell, which is substantially determined by the big money organizations.
Duane
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 5:08pm
Ah, the laments of one who feels out of ideas and looking for someone to blame. It’s analogous to blaming technology for the media’s fall from power. Much as the media has held itself the ‘elite’ of American thought, ask the New York Times, and when such a group has runout of ideas than we are lost and ungovernable. Reality is that ideas are everywhere from all types of people, but until the ‘elite’ let go of their self-importance and begin to ask and listen they will never realize that ideas abound. The ‘realignment’ in the 30s and 40s was not an honest one, it was framed by the media as being one achieved by the government and intellectual ‘elite’, when in reality it was the same old America being rebuilt by individuals together being creative, [read Freedom’s Forge has examples]. Rather than expect all the answers to come from some ‘elite’ or central planning group we need people with the means to simply ask and listen. If Mr. Power truly wanted new ideas, Bridge would offer its forum to include creation of a ‘public think tank’ for Michigan, engaging readers to have a structured conversation on an issue/problem, to offer and develop innovative approaches to persistent problems, ways for individuals to interact with the purpose of getting people engaged rather than forcing them to be dependent on an ‘elite’ group or Party. Mr. Trump is nothing special other than saying things in a way that ‘scares’ the ‘elite’ and manipulates them to be his megaphone. How better for the public to voice their disappointments with the ‘elite’ than to manipulate the pollsters into projecting election results without a vote. Tug the blankets over your head, give up on living [but the fast growing part of the population is the over 100], claim we are ungovernable because in rare cases criminals can perpitrate heinous acts, you have the choice, that is what is great about our country. Or be like the readers of Bridge, engage in conversations and list to and challenge people with competing ideas, with differing perspectives, risk your own views in the marketplace of ideas. Mr. Power define a problem, let readers develop a single article as structured conversation about new and innovative ways to address it, then judge if we have runout of viable ideas.
Tom
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 5:33pm
As a CEO, if Trump uttered the hate he does he would be austriized by the business community as other decision makers would not put up with it. However, as a politician, he feeds on the fear, racism and hate - the worst America has to offer. With the "economic fascism" which is being practiced both by those of the "New Greed is GoodCapitalists" and their paid for polticians, that sad,sick segment of the American populist is growing thus servicing his candidacy.....
Thu, 12/17/2015 - 6:53am
This could be the beginning of the end for the United States to be looked at as the leaderr of the free world. It is no longer free when Citizens United allows unlimited spending to buy votes. Democracy is not being taken by force but rather money. ... http://lstrn.us/1hkN2ll
Rich
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 4:36am
One has to only look back in history at any of the great world powers. Each lasted about 200 years before greed and laziness caused them to crumble from within. The Internet and modern transportation systems may compress that time period somewhat. We have no shortage of greed and laziness in this country. Our time may be soon.
Vince Mangiapane
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 12:53pm
If the greed don't leave few crumbles from their cookie to the people. They will lose the Hole copy. Get it?