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Identity Politics

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5/3/2016 8:11:34 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I think we can all agree that this has been among the most acrimonious electoral cycle that has been seen in modern times. The impulse in it all is to self regard as being "above" such matters, while blaming the "other," whoever the "other" may be. The irony behind that impulse is that impulse politics are what cause the acrimony. Is acrimony even a bad thing? Most of us don't like it, but the only aspect of it we don't like is that directed at us from... that odious "other."

Who makes up the "other" has become more distorted in this election than in previous ones, because factional lines have become more pronounced within the traditional party borders. What that means is that the divide between the "base" and the "establishment" has become more clear in both the democratic party, and the republican party. So, the rancor isn't just coming from the "democrats versus republicans" angle. It's "establishment democrats v. base democrats, base republicans, and establishment republicans." It's "base democrats v. establishment democrats, establishment republicans, and base republicans." etc. The point is that there are at least three conceptual fronts of attack, and the attacks are horizontal (i.e. across parties) and vertical (within parties among base and establishment). The "opening of these new fronts" is what is giving rise to the perception we're experiencing more rancor and vitriol.

In the past, the democrats simply fell in love, and picked whoever wasn't their establishment candidate; whereas the republicans fell in line, and united around the establishment candidate. Examples of the democratic trend include Barack Obama, etc. With the republicans, it's McCain, Bush, etc. On the Republican side, that changed with Mitt Romney, and on the Democratic side, it's changing with Hillary Clinton. Democrats are reluctantly coalescing around Hillary, the establishment candidate (whose politics are really indistinguishable from a Rockefeller Republican), whereas Republicans are enthusiastically uniting behind the insurgent candidate, Donald Trump.

So... who wins here?

What's happening is that we are moving closer to a multi-party system than we have in the United States since the 1930s. What is ironic is that the people who formerly called for a multiparty system who are now experiencing the impact of the transition thereto are now very deeply opposed to its emergence because in large part the specific parties that are being transitioned too do not reflect the particular parties they would have preferred. Said less abstractly, whereas former Republicans of any camp wanted a libertarian party, they got a populist party. Where democrats wanted a progressive party, they got a democratic socialist party, which is also a populist party. However, the real question now is whether right wing populism will yield to center-left establishmentism.

I... really don't know. I think Trump will win, because when democrats stay home because they are not enthusiastic (as will be the case with a candidate like Hillary Clinton), Republicans win even when Republicans are not enthusiastic about their candidate. But, here, and in particular with Trump, Republicans who support Trump are at once extremely enthusiastic about Trump, and all Republicans (even those who do not like Trump) bitterly hate Hillary Clinton.

But what is driving the splits, on so many new fronts? Identity politics, of course.

Left and right wing political identity is fascinating, because they identify themselves both as members of their own group, and as "non-members" of the "other" group. Said more concretely, Democrats know themselves because they are Democrats, and also because they are not republicans. Likewise, Republicans know themselves because they are Republicans, but also because they are not Democrats. There is only red and blue; no purple. But, Trump and Sanders have further complicated the picture.

Trump is everything the Republican party has suggested would make a good president since Obama's election. Trump is white, and American. Obama is black, and was alleged by many to be Kenyan. Trump is outspoken, whereas Obama is reserved. Trump is spastic, whereas Obama is measured. Trump is loud and demeaning, whereas Obama is ironic and subtle. Trump is at once the Republican party's "everyman" and the embodiment of the party's aspirational goals: rich from business deals, but still who appears to be in touch with middle america. Obama is the anthesis of the Republican party's aspirational goals; not rich, cerebral (as an academic) and aloof. Trump is the anti-Obama; Obama is the anti-Trump. As foils of one another, Trump is best seated to take the nomination and the eventual win. (For further discussion on this, see generally David Axelrod's "replica/remedy" theory, which mirrors my own perspective on this election that I have been saying since the day Trump announced.) Thus, Trump is the "true Republican" (without even having to claim that) both because he is the union of the Republican "everyman" and the embodiment the Republican ideal candidate, who is drafted in from the business world. Trump is Republican identity.

Hillary is the Democratic party, and has been the Democratic party for nearly twenty years. But, Hillary is not the remedy to Obama; she is doing everything in her power to ride on Obama's coattails, into electoral success. It is a strategy that will fail. Hillary cannot embody the ideals of the Democratic party because she is a legacy, in the sense that for all the good will she brings, she carries baggage of equal weight. Hillary is not novel; she is lacking in novelty both because of America's exceeding familiarity with her (as a household name for two decades), and because she has made every effort to frame her candidacy as a continuation of Barack Obama. But, she is not Barack Obama. She is Hillary Clinton. Presumably, she never read Hamlet.

"To thine own self be true." was Polonius's last piece of advice to his son Laertes, who was then in a great rush to Paris, where he'll be safe from his father's long-winded (but sage) speeches. Trump is true to himself; and in so doing, he is true to the party, while at the same time true to those aspects that Americans most long for in a candidate. Trump's appeal to right wing inclined independents is substantial. Hillary has no appeal to independents, and only appeals to those establishment Democrats who would have voted for the eventual nominee of the Democratic party no matter who that person was.

That level of inter and intra party factionalism, described above, will contribute to Hillary's ultimate failure to secure the general election win. Hillary has driven younger, more economically progressive voters from the party. They see themselves less as "democrats" and more as "progressive independents" or simply outright socialists. It will therefore be easier for them to sit at home. The evidence is contained in the rate of popularity Hillary has among those who would have voted for Bernie. They will never support her, no matter her efforts. Simultaneously, the level of inter and intra party factionalism will help Trump, because the breadth of right wing populism's appeal is as sweeping as middle America is vast.

Trump is the new fusion conservatism candidate; he is New Reaganism, simply, because the establishment will eventually unite behind him out of opposition to Hillary Clinton. The Democratic party, in contrast, is experiencing what the Republican party did in 2012: a crisis of identity.
Posts: 1,387
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5/3/2016 8:21:54 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/3/2016 8:11:34 PM, YYW wrote:
Hillary is the Democratic party, and has been the Democratic party for nearly twenty years. But, Hillary is not the remedy to Obama; she is doing everything in her power to ride on Obama's coattails, into electoral success. It is a strategy that will fail.

Precisely. The electorate want to be led, not followed.
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5/3/2016 9:26:05 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
How can Hillary fix this?
The extinction of the species is worse than the extinction of the nation, which is worse than the extinction of the tribe, which is worse than the extinction of the family, which is worse than the extinction of the individual. The second he reverses that list of priorities, he becomes a coward, and would be summarily disposed of by any civilized society that values its own survival.