THE spectacle of the Republican Party’s Trumpian meltdown has inspired a mix of glee and fear among liberals — glee over their rivals’ self-immolation, and fear that what arises from the destruction will be worse.Let's talk about liberals. Talking about conservatives is kind of embarrassing these days. Miserable, in fact. All around us, Republicans are watching the result of their decades-long fight to reverse the New Deal. They won. We're now poorer and angry and a lot more desperate.
Douthat could discuss the negative effect of his actions on others. He could examine why his party failed in their every moral duty. However, Douthat is a little pig of a man who thinks he can grease himself up and squirm and avoid any responsibility for his actions.
What it hasn’t inspired is much in the way of self-examination, or a recognition of the way that Obama-era trends in liberal politics have helped feed the Trump phenomenon. Such a recognition wouldn’t require letting the Republican Party off the hook. The Trump uprising is first and foremost a Republican and conservative problem: There would be no Trumpism if George W. Bush’s presidency hadn’t cratered, no Trumpism if the party hadn’t alternated between stoking and ignoring working-class grievances, no Trump as front-runner if the party leadership and his rivals had committed fully to stopping him before now.
Liberals aren't guilty but liberals are guilty. Ross Douthat knows the route to success in the Republican authoritarian world is to confess your sins, tell everyone you have done your repentance, and vow to sin no more. He thinks he can admit to fault and then move on to the next stage in his brilliant career. To help ensure that everyone quickly forgets his culpability, he blames liberals for his own actions. Liberals will squawk and defend themselves. Ross Douthat will smile and sit back and let the liberals discuss how much guilt they should accept, knowing that he's moved the discussion off of himself.
This is a fundamentally sinful attitude in a Catholic. Douthat knows that God knows everything in his heart and mind. He knows it's a sin to refuse to confess a sin. It's also a sin to lie. Douthat's religion devotion is as fake as his intellectual prowess.
But Trumpism is also a creature of the late Obama era, irrupting after eight years when a charismatic liberal president has dominated the cultural landscape and set the agenda for national debates. President Obama didn’t give us Trump in any kind of Machiavellian or deliberate fashion. But it isn’t an accident that this is the way the Obama era ends — with a reality TV demagogue leading a populist, nationalist revolt.
Obama isn't guilty but Obama is guilty. Douthat does not want to admit that Trump is a creation of the Republican id.
Liberals are guilty because Republicans claimed they worshipped Obama, and famous people endorsed him. Meanwhile, conservatives passed around artwork depicting Obama in racist poses. They claimed he was a Muslim Kenyan. They said he was only elected because he would give away free goodies to the poor. They made hysterical claim that Obama would utterly destroy the nation. But Douthat does not mention the stoked hatred, the race-baiting, the God-bothering, the tea party mentality that he supported.
First, the reality TV element in Trump’s campaign is a kind of fun-house-mirror version of the celebrity-saturated Obama effort in 2008. Presidential politics has long had an escalating celebrity component, a cultish side that’s grown ever-more-conspicuous with time. But the first Obama campaign raised the bar. The quasi-religious imagery and rhetoric, the Great Man iconography and pillared sets, the Oprah endorsement and Will.i.am music video and the Hollywood stars pledging allegiance — it was presidential politics as one part Aaron Sorkin-scripted liturgy, one part prestige movie’s Oscar campaign.
And it worked. But because it worked, now we have the nearly-inevitable next step: presidential politics as a season of “Survivor” or, well, “The Apprentice,” with the same celebrity factor as Obama’s ’08 run, but with his campaign’s high-middlebrow pretensions stripped away. If Obama proved that you can run a presidential campaign as an aspirational cult of personality, in which a Sarah Silverman endorsement counts for as much as a governor or congressman’s support, Trump is proving that you don’t need Silverman to shout “the Aristocrats!” and have people eat it up.
He’s also proving, in his bullying, overpromising style, that voters are increasingly habituated to the idea of an ever more imperial presidency — which is also a trend that Obama’s choices have accelerated. Having once campaigned against his predecessor’s power grabs, the current president has expanded executive authority along almost every dimension: launching wars without congressional approval, claiming the power to assassinate American citizens, and using every available end-around to make domestic policy without any support from Congress.
In the process, he’s cut the legs from under principled liberal critiques of executive power, and weakened the American left’s role as a bulwark against Caesarism. Which makes it altogether fitting — if deeply unfortunate — that his reward is the rise of a right-wing Caesarist whose authoritarian style and outrageous promises makes George W. Bush look like Cato the Younger.
And that Caesarist, crucially, is rallying a constituency that once swung between the parties, but that the Obama White House has spent the last eight years slowly writing off. Trump’s strongest supporters aren’t archconservatives; they’re white working-class voters, especially in the Rust Belt and coal country, who traditionally leaned Democratic and still favor a strong welfare state.
These voters had been drifting away from the Democratic Party since the 1970s, but Obama has made moves that effectively slam the door on them: His energy policies, his immigration gambits, his gun control push, his shift to offense on same-sex marriage and abortion. It was possible to be a culturally conservative skeptic of mass immigration in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. Not so anymore.
Douthat is making a complete and utter rejection of responsibility. He pretends he isn't but a couple caveats don't cancel out his central point. Douthat makes sure he claims Obama went far left and alienated reasonable conservatives.
Of course this process has been a two-way street, as bigotry inclined some of these voters against Obama from the start, or encouraged them to think the worst of him eventually. And political coalitions shift all the time: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Obama White House’s decision that a more ethnically diverse and thoroughgoingly liberal coalition held more promise than continued efforts to keep Reagan Democrats in the fold. (Though Democrats in Congress and statehouses might be forgiven for doubting the decision.But liberalism still needs to reckon with the consequences. As in Europe, when the left gives up on nationalism and lets part of its old working class base float away, the result is a hard-pressed constituency unmoored from either party, and nursing well-grounded feelings of betrayal.Hence Marine Le Pen and the nationalist parties of Europe. And hence, now, Donald Trump.
He is the Republican Party’s monster, yes. But what he represents is also part of the Obama legacy — a nemesis for liberal follies as well as conservative corruptions, and a threat to both traditions for many years to come.
I think he can get a book out of this if he acts quickly. The right will love to read how the left forced them to new lows of racism, hatred and irresponsibility.