In the 50s, during Joe McCarthy’s time, people had an idea of what “too far” was. Because it was an age of ideological conformity, it took them a while to sack up about it, but they eventually did and sent McCarthy packing in disgrace. But we’ve spent at least a generation breaking down the barriers that define “too far.” Consequently, I’m not at all sure that anything that Trump says could derail him or his movement. (Yes, it’s more a movement than Bernie’s.)
Situating Trump and his supporters (who’s listening is so much more important than who’s talking) in this larger context, our time looks more like 1930s Europe than 1950s America. What we may be witnessing is the emergence of two game changing trends.
First, the first real and sustained challenge to the Left’s dominance on “the social front” of “The Culture War.” This is what the assault on “political correctness” is mostly about. Liberals of various flavors haven’t yet figured out how to counter populist challenge to political correctness because they’ve grown soft and complacent after so many culture war wins from the 90s onward. However, I read The Culture War differently than most, in that I also see an “economic front” to it on which the Right has been remarkably dominant since the Reagan/Thatcher era. Hence, The Culture War as I understand it is the 20-30 year balance created by the Left and the Right’s almost complete dominance of their respective fronts. Now the economic front is also being pressured by this current wave of authoritarian populism’s challenges to immigration and global trade policies.
The second trend that I’m seeing is an erosion of of “liberal vs. conservative” as the dominant axis along which individuals and movements align politically. (Political parties will cling to it, however, as long as it generates cash for their campaigns.) To the extent that this erosion is on our horizon, I see it being gradually replaced by an axis with “oligarchs” on one end and “the demos” on the other. In the middle will be an amorphous, but highly influential group vying for or holding on to the status of “elites” (especially those technocrats and entrepreneurs who’ve benefited most from “globalization” and the “new economy”) as more and more wealth is concentrated into the hands of oligarchs.
The Donald is the poster boy for both of these trends. However, the forces driving them are truly epochal, and are much larger than Trump or any of the other authoritarians currently on the rise. In fact, while there’s a real chance that Trump as a figure could be swept away by his own incoherence, it’s the emerging political alignments I’ve touched on here that will matter over the next generation or so.
“Trump: McCarthy 2.0” | The Baltimore Sun | Theodore G. Venetoulis | 06/03/2016
IMAGE SOURCE: “Donald_Trump_with_supporters” (Wikipedia Commons)