Tuesday, September 26, 2017


According to David Brooks, Donald Trump voters chose their candidate while not expecting him to actually do anything as president:
It has to be admitted that Donald Trump is doing exactly what he was elected to do.

He was not elected to be a legislative president. He never showed any real interest in policy during the campaign. He was elected to be a cultural president. He was elected to shred the dominant American culture and to give voice to those who felt voiceless in that culture. He’s doing that every day.
Yes, his voters wanted him to spit in the eye of the culture. Yes, they're still happy with him, despite the fact that he hasn't accomplished much more of what he promised than that. Yes, every time a mainstream reporter goes to a diner in Trump Country, beaming white cultists say he's a great president because he's "shaking things up."

But they expected that "shaking things up" would lead to actual results. They thought he was telling the truth when he said this:

We are going to take our country and we're going to fix it. We're going to make it great again. We are going to fix our healthcare. We are going to take care of our vets. We are going to fix our military. We are going to strengthen our borders. We're going to build the wall....

And this:

... we're going to do things that have never been done. We're going to straighten our country out. We're going to do it fast. It's going to be done properly. We're going to strengthen our military. We're going to knock the hell out of ISIS -- we have to do it. We're going to win, win, win.
They didn't think he was mostly going to tweet and piss and moan. They're happy to watch him do those things, but they voted for more, even if they're settling for less.

Brooks goes on to sketch a cultural history of America since World War II: The Protestant Establishment ran everything, then Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and similar provocateurs upended the social order. Then "a new establishment came into being ... the meritocratic establishment."
These were the tame heirs to Hoffman and Rubin. They were well educated. They cut their moral teeth on the civil rights and feminist movements. They embraced economic, social and moral individualism. They came to dominate the institutions of American society on both left and right.
That's quite a broad brush. Every person with any power across the political spectrum falls under this rubric. Apparently they all have the same politics and they're all equally responsible for the state of the world:
This establishment, too, has had its failures. It created an economy that benefits itself and leaves everybody else out. It led America into war in Iraq and sent the working class off to fight it.
Let me stop there. The president who "led America into war in Iraq" was as different from the meritocrats as it's possible to be -- he was a trust-fund drunk who upward-failed all the way to two terms in the White House. Others responsible for the war -- Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- cut their teeth in the White House of Richard Nixon, who loathed the cultural changes Brooks identifies with the meritocrats. Karl Rove, another member of the war cabinet, was a College Republican for Nixon. They didn't start the war because they're boomer meritocrats. They started it because they're a specific sort of dangerous idiot.

The economy was the creation of a ravenous capitalist class -- pre- and post-boomer, meritocrat and manor-born elite -- who began taking advantage of cheap outsourcing and the decline of the labor movement long before any ex-Deadhead won power. The rapaciousness accelerated during the backlash presided over by non-boomers Reagan and Thatcher. One of the children of that counterrevolution was non-meritocrat Trump, who, through dumb luck, bought low in the Manhattan real estate market when New York City was broke and cashed in when the financialization of the economy hit warp speed under the Gipper.
So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.

That’s exactly what he’s doing. Donald Trump came into a segmenting culture and he is further tearing apart every fissure. He has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red-hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open.
But that's not what his voters want. They'll settle for making liberals, non-whites, LGBT people, and non-acquiescent women cry, but what they'd really like is for all us to be gone. They don't want us in power; they don't want us in the media; they don't want us in the country. And they want all their overseas enemies gone -- and gone effortlessly, with few if any U.S. casualties, from the working class or otherwise.

When the dust settles and their enemies are still here and still making trouble overseas, they're going to blame their domestic foes, not Trump, for subverting him -- but eventually they're going to conclude that they need someone more powerful than they think Trump is. Because they still want stuff done.


In a post about this column that's much better than mine, Yastreblyansky reminds us that the Trump administration actually is getting a lot done:
... one of the things that needs to be understood is that Trump's presidency isn't even that ineffective, as compared for instance to the Republican Congress. Trump is personally incompetent, to be sure, but he's got people around him doing things, generally Republican things like stripping environmental and labor regulations, suppressing minority votes, and baffling our friends in Western Europe and East Asia. Trump's continual acting out on the Twitter and at his campaign rallies, his Nixonian call on the racist loudmouth dotards who think of themselves as a "silent majority", whether he himself knows it or not, are a terrific distraction from the real work the White House is quietly getting done. If it weren't for the utter incompetence of Ryan and McConnell and the brokenness of the party as a whole, we could be in real trouble.
But very little of this is what his voters expected him to do. It's not what he promised. And they still want all that.

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