Virgil: Ten Takeaways from the Trump Revolution of 2016
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!” So wrote the poet William Wordsworth in 1792. In my case, I’m feeling blissful, but, alas, not so young. So I’m one for two.
Back in the late 18th century, Wordsworth was writing about the French Revolution (about which he was soon disillusioned). In my case, here in the early 21st century, I’m thinking strictly positive thoughts about this latest peaceful American revolution, which begs comparison to two other political earthquakes: the Reagan Revolution of 1980, and the Gingrich Revolution of 1994.
And now to the Trump Revolution of 2016. Here are ten takeaway points:
1) It’s 1828 all over again. Although 1980 and 1994 offer some parallels, perhaps the best 2016 comparison is to an election from nearly two centuries ago: the 1828 contest. Back then, challenger Andrew Jackson mobilized a heretofore invisible coalition—that is, voters from such frontier states as Illinois and Missouri—against the incumbent president, John Quincy Adams. Jackson’s peaceful populist rebellion, remembered as the “revolt of the rustics,” swept the Tennessean into the White House.
Without a doubt, that presidential campaign was bitter: It’s fair to say that the Eastern elites of that era were as horrified by Jackson as the Eastern elites of our time have been horrified by Donald Trump. For example, in the so-called “coffin handbills” that circulated widely in that campaign, Jackson was accused of everything from adultery to mass murder to cannibalism.
Yet despite all that establishment vitriol, Jackson won, and thus launched a new political realignment. And at the core of the new Jacksonian coalition was the alliance Southern white Protestants and Northern Catholics. Those two groups didn’t have much in common, except for a shared antipathy to Adams’ political party, dominated by Yankee Protestants, who were the common foe of both Southerners and Catholics.
Indeed, that “anti” spirit was enough to bind the Jacksonian factions together. Thus in 1828, Jackson, Southerner that he was, carried not only South Carolina, but also Pennsylvania. That North-South coalition remained dominant in American politics for most of the next century-and-a-half, surviving even the Civil War.
And yet along the way, the parties flipped, so that by the late 20th century, the Jacksonian Democrats had become Nixon-Reagan Republicans. More recently, in the last quarter-century, this long-standing coalition, at least at the national level, has become partially undone. That is, the South has been voting Republican for president, and the North has been voting Democratic.
Now, in 2016, Trump has begun the process of gluing the North-South coalition back together: On Tuesday, like Jackson long ago, Trump carried both South Carolina and Pennsylvania—and the Keystone State had not gone Republican since 1988. As Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard headlined his post-election piece, “Trump Didn’t Split the GOP–He Strengthened It.”
2) Americans don’t like dynasties. Speaking of that 1828 election, one lesson is that Americans, instinctive small “r” republicans that they are, don’t like dynasties, as they smack too much of royalty. The same John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, was the son of the second president, John Adams. And yet the younger Adams’ defeat in 1828 spelled the end of the family’s success in presidential politics.
Moreover, we can see that in a democracy, dynasties are almost impossible to maintain, because political talent is not often heritable, nor is it transferrable—as Hillary Clinton has just reminded us. And nobody sees an electoral future for Chelsea Clinton.
So we can see now, in 2016: When Americans were confronted with two dynastic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, both were rejected. Indeed, had it not been for the extensive collusion of the supposedly neutral Democratic National Committee with her campaign, Clinton might well have been derailed in the Democratic primaries, just as Jeb was in the GOP primaries. (So we can see: Trump can be credited with putting the kibosh on two dynasties.)
Finally, we can add that Clinton always faced an uphill climb, because history shows that it’s hard for the party in the White House to win a third consecutive term; in fact, it’s happened only once since 1952, and that was back in 1988.
3) Brexit comes to America. If references to 1828 seem too obscure, this election can also usefully be compared to the June “Brexit” in the United Kingdom. As Breitbart readers know, Brexit was the vote that emancipated Britain from the clutches of the European Union. In fact, Trump was quick to associate himself with that populist-nationalist spirit; as he said in the UK right after the vote, he would be “Mr. Brexit” for America. And with a key assist from Nigel Farage, the hero of Brexit, Trump made it happen.
Even now, at this early stage, we can itemize some of the bureaucratic Babels that the US will soon be freed from thanks to Trump’s victory, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Obama administration’s “climate change” agreement, which is currently on track to de-carbonize—read: completely de-industrialize—America in the next few decades. Such are the benefits of sovereign independence.
4) Most polls aren’t worth much. As with Brexit, virtually all of the polls about America’s presidential election were wrong. Indeed, even into the last hours, pollsters were arguing about the precise certainty of, and dimensions of, the looming Clinton victory. Just last week, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com was being attacked by Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post because Silver insisted that Trump had a 35 percent chance of winning, while Grim declared flatly that Trump had no more than a two percent chance. The New York Times, meanwhile, although not as partisanly optimistic as The Huffington Post, averred that Trump had just a 15 percent chance of winning.
Still, we can recall a short—very short—honor roll of accurate polls. The two that leap to mind are Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP and USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times. As the LA Times’ David Lauter observed of his newspaper’s surveys:
The poll’s findings caused dismay—even outrage—among some readers, especially Democrats, who have denounced it and often criticized the Times for running it.
Of course, there’s little reason to think that the MSM will embrace the success of those accurate polls. Why? Because they might show Republicans doing well, and, as we have learned, the standard MSM schtick is to proclaim, at all times, “REPUBLICANS DOOMED!” in the hope that Republican voters will lose heart. In fact, Trump’s victory notwithstanding, the mood of the MSM seems to be as hostile as ever, as evidenced by The New York Times’ editorial after the election; here’s a sample of the Times’ latest rant:
Mr. Trump is the most unprepared president-elect in modern history. We know that by words and actions, he has shown himself to be temperamentally unfit to lead a diverse nation of 320 million people. We know he has threatened to prosecute and jail his political opponents, and he has said he would curtail the freedom of the press. We know he lies without compunction.
If that’s the tone the Times takes, then a polling outfit that shows Republicans doing poorly will always be more welcome at Times HQ than one that might show Republicans doing well.
5) Middle America has asserted itself, and these folks have their own ideas. Throughout the ’16 election, the MSM and the rest of the chattering class viewed the American working- and middle class with a combination of contempt and pity. To illustrate, we can look back to July 13, when The New York Times headlined a news story, “For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance.” We might pause to ask: Would the Times use the word “decline” in regard to any group, other than whites? Indeed, as well we all know, the MSM has been joined in its anti-white mockery by big chunks of what’s billed, these days, as “comedy.”
This liberal groupthink has been pervasive; it has settled like a thick fog on the worldviews of the chatterers in Washington, DC, New York City, and Los Angeles. And while this hive-mindedness makes life comfortable for urban snobs, it also blinded them to larger realities, including the reality of their own declining influence.
A few MSMers noticed this loss of mojo: One such is Politico’s Jack Shafer, who wrote recently that media bias, as highlighted by Trump, had cost the MSM its power to affect the thinking of half the country:
As a result of Trump’s attack-the-messenger strategy, for perhaps the first time in U.S. history no mainstream outlet has any influence over the voters backing one of the presidential nominees. This neutering of mainstream media by Trump has made it more difficult for the press to frame the issues effectively.
In fact, it’s even arguable that such scorn plays to the advantage of Republicans; that is, the MSM hostility is so heavy-handed that it has boomeranged.
Hence Trump’s victory, in which Republican voters were guided by everything but what they were being told by the likes of Clinton staffer-turned-Clinton donor George Stephanopoulos. Thus Wednesday’s rueful headline in The New York Times: “Donald Trump is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment.”
Meanwhile, the elite have finally discovered, to their dismay, that all those “bitter clingers” and “deplorables” have minds of their own. As journalist Ron Brownstein noted, Trump won working-class white voters by a wider margin than did Ronald Reagan. And those folks in the middle have distinct opinions on such issues as immigration, law and order, and trade that are much different from those of their self-appointed bi-coastal betters.
Moreover, we can observe that while this smug culture of incomprehension and condescension has been a characteristic of the left, it can also be observed, in milder form, on the right. That is, many Republicans, perhaps even today, just can’t quite believe that Trump stands for anything more than reality-TV showmanship. Yet as anyone who reads Breitbart, for example, knows, serious thinking has been going on about what a populist-nationalist center-right coalition might look like, even if the familiar DC think-tanks haven’t been interested.
Still, the new voices are loud and insistent. One such belongs to Stephen K. Bannon, who stepped away from leading this site to serve as CEO of the Trump campaign. Bannon put it bluntly to Breitbart editor-in-chief Alex Marlow on Wednesday morning’s broadcast of Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM: “Last night . . . you saw the hobbits finally had a chance to speak.” The phrase “hobbits,” of course, is an ironic reference to one of the many dismissive epithets hurled at grassroots activists in the past few years.
And now that half the country has found its voice, it’ll be darn hard for the Establishment to shut them up—although, of course, they’ll certainly try.
6) Wall Street took it on the chin. As documented by many—the latest being Rana Foroohar in her new book, Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business–one of the big economic stories of the last few decades has been the rise of financialism. That is, the rise of the spreadsheet economy and the decline of traditional inventing and manufacturing. Foroohar notes, for example, that only 15 percent of the money “invested” by financial institutions goes into actual business investment; the other 85 percent is spent buying and selling existing financial instruments. In other words, it’s casino capitalism, and nothing more; that might be a formula for profits in Manhattan, but it’s not a formula for jobs and livelihoods across the country.
To be sure, Wall Street has been perfectly happy playing this new game: After all, to them, money is money; indeed, it’s probably easier to make more by simply manipulating algorithms than by actually making things. In fact, finance is so profitable—in some years, it has accounted for almost half the profits earned in the US—that the “Masters of the Universe” have barely noticed that public support for their activities has hemorrhaged away. Hence headlines such as this, from Reuters: “Wall Street elite stunned at Trump triumph.” It’s a safe bet that Wall Streeters will be paying close attention from now on—although whether or not they change their ways remains to be seen. Now, the answer to that question must come from President Trump.
In the meantime, it’s more important for Republicans to be pro-Main Street than anti-Wall Street. Nobody needs socialism; what’s needed is more capitalism—specifically, more capital, along with a better business environment, for Flyover Country, so that new small businesses can sprout up somewhere other than Silicon Valley.
7) President Obama also took it on the chin—or maybe the gut. Here’s the headline in Politico on Wednesday morning: “Obama reeling from gut punch of Trump win/ America’s decision to embrace Trump and reject Obama’s third term shocked the White House.” We can pause over that strong language, “gut punch.” Once again, this was in Politico, a member in good standing of the MSM. In the words of reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere:
Obama said for months on the campaign trail that he’d consider Donald Trump’s election a personal repudiation. And it was. The Senate and House results leave no question, as if there could be one.
Then the Politico man added these words, sure to be painful to any progressive, about the prospects for the Obama administration’s ideology in its waning days:
They’ve already lost the chance to lock in Obama’s vision of America, one that is educated and pragmatist, multicultural, cosmopolitan and globalist.
Yes, that was, and is, the Obama administration: “multicultural, cosmopolitan and globalist.” That’s exactly what was rejected on Tuesday.
8) The Republican Establishment now faces a challenge. As everyone knows, the Republican Establishment was slow to embrace Trump—except when it was downright hostile.
So now we can see: There are two Republican parties: First, the Trump Insurgents, and, second, the Establishment.
For years, the bulk of the GOP Establishment has supported policies such as open borders and free trade. That is, policies that were never popular with workers, including Hispanic workers, and now have been resoundingly rejected by Trump and his supporters. And soon Trump will be the 45th President.
So what will happen? Can the GOP find a way to embrace the Insurgents and thus unite them with the Establishment? If so, that would make the GOP a formidable force. And as we have seen, there’s ample precedent for such strange-bedfellow alliances; the aforementioned Jacksonian coalition—Southern white Protestants and Northern Catholics—was bitterly divided over such issues as Prohibition, and yet since they were even more bitterly opposed to the Yankees, they stuck together.
So by that same reckoning, it’s possible to imagine that Republicans will find common ground. They can start, for example, with such issues as Life and the Second Amendment—and seal the deal with a conservative Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia—although those unifying issues are no longer sufficient. Indeed, even tax cuts, popular and necessary as they might be, are also probably not sufficient.
Edward Conard, a prominent Mitt Romney supporter four years ago, has waded deeply into this coalition pool. In his new book, The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class, he argues that if the investor class wants to keep its treasured low marginal tax rates, it must give substantial ground in other areas of importance to the middle class, notably, immigration and trade. In other words, in Conard’s view, the focus must be on productive capitalism for America, not redistributive globalism for the world.
9) Evan McMullin will have to find a new career plan. McMullin, the former Congressional staffer-turned-independent presidential candidate, was widely regarded as nothing more than a plutocratic cat’s paw—that is, as a political tool to be wielded by rich Never Trump Republicans.
Indeed, McMullin, at least at first, seemed to find a niche among pro-Bush 43 Republicans. As Jim Antle wrote earlier this month in The American Conservative, “McMullin supporters were generally happy with George W. Bush.” One is perfectly entitled to take that position, although not many do. Antle added of McMullin:
Many of his high-profile supporters wanted the Republican Party to nominate Marco Rubio, the candidate most closely associated with the 43rd president’s legacy on immigration and foreign policy.
In other words, McMullin was the candidate of the pre-Trump Old Guard. For his part, Trump referred to McMullin as a “puppet.”
In fact, the Utah-born McMullin seemed to have only one goal this year: to deprive Trump of the Beehive State’s six electoral votes, either by winning the state outright or by throwing the election to Hillary Clinton. Either way, McMullin failed; he won just 20 percent of the Utah vote, finishing behind Clinton. Meanwhile, Trump won the state with 46 percent.
And yet here’s something interesting about McMullin. In the course of his campaign, he seemed to drift away from Trump-bashing and toward something with more of a future: liberating Western land from federal control. As an astute observer has noted, federal lands contain hundreds of trillions—yes, that’s trillions with a “t”—of dollars worth of oil, gas, and other natural resources. And yet all that wealth hs been locked up by Uncle Sam in the name of “environmentalism.” Needless to say, the green left, never itself hurting for money, has been delighted by this lock-down. And yet strangely, most Republicans have been quiescent about this national impoverishment.
In the meantime, the feds have been ratcheting up the pressure on Western landowners and leaseholders, in what’s clearly an accelerating effort to push Westerners off the land–all for the sake of owls, wind farms, and any other whim that floats a fancy in Manhattan or Malibu.
So now, with the election behind him, and his Trump-destroying mission a failure, we’ll have to see what path McMullin chooses. Will he go to work for some big hedge fund? Or will he stay in Utah and continue to champion the political rights, and economic future, of the West?
If McMullin chooses the latter course, he might end up making a substantial contribution—a contribution, that is, not only to the pro-Trump Deplorables, but also to other Deplorables, notably working-class Hispanics and other minorities. These ethnic groups, who seem to have mostly stuck with Clinton in this election, will soon enough figure out that the Green Democrats have no plan for getting them good jobs at good wages. And why not? Because good jobs at good wages typically consist of making things, or growing things, or mining things; that is, all the things that the Greens despise. And out of that class conflict—trust-funded aristocrats and other varieties of NIMBY vs. people who need to work—comes a huge political opportunity for Republicans. And if McMullin wants to help by reminding working Westerners that their future depends on pro-growth policies, more power to him. So far, at least that’s an “if.”
10) For all the talk about a Republican “civil war,” the bigger intra-party fight is likely to be among Democrats. As we have seen, Republicans face their own coalitional challenges. And yet the Republicans won; it’s easier for victors to solve their problems, because success puts everyone in a good mood. By contrast, losers, not surprisingly, tend to embittered and vengeful.
And so, as the Democrats look to future elections, the intra-party wrangling must commence.
In fact, it has already commenced: In her surprisingly classy concession speech on Wednesday, Clinton hit many familiar Democratic themes, but notably omitted any mention of the Democrats’ more extreme positions, such as support for open borders, support for “retraining” the police, and praise for the Black Lives Matter group. So how will those omissions sit with Democrats who hold the opposite position? Stay tuned!
In the meantime, a Politico headline on Wednesday spoke volumes: “Democratic Party in crisis.” Reporter Gabriel DeBenedetti asked: Is it the Clintons’ party? Or is it Obama’s? Or Elizabeth Warren’s? The reporter continued:
Those questions are just the beginning. Is Obama’s coalition of millennials, minorities, and women not enough, party operatives are now asking. . . . Are working class white men out of the party’s grasp forever? Good questions, all. Can the Democrats flourish without their historic base among the working class?
Indeed, there does appear to be some genuine soul searching on the Democratic side: “I had no idea how deep the divisions are, how real the pain is,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala said on CNN. “Donald Trump has given voice to some real spectacular pain on his side.”
Where that soul-searching process will lead remains to be seen, and yet on Wednesday evening, a possible answer came poking through, as Bernie Sanders weighed in with a new threat to the Democrats’ stability. Taking dead aim at the elitist, globalist, billionaire-ish, orientation of Obama-Clintonism, Sanders declared:
Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer.
And then Sanders added this kicker of a warning to Democrats:
To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him.
To be sure, Sanders’ statement was hardly a love letter to Trump; in the very next sentence, Sanders pledged to oppose Trump to the extent that the Vermonter judges him to be “racist, sexist, xenophobic,” etc. And since we know that the Democrats have a hair-trigger when it comes to any violation of PC orthodoxy, we can see that Sanders has given himself an easy out—if he wants it.
Yet still, Sanders has put the Democrats Part on notice: The populist wing of the party is in a state of turmoil, as rank-and-file Democrats come to realize that the Corporatist-Multiculturalist-Green elite that has led the party for decades can’t deliver the goods for ordinary working people.
Thus the larger meaning of Sanders’ statement is clear: If Trump can redeem his pledge to help the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman, he and the Republicans will benefit, too, as the last working people in the Democratic Party turn out the lights on their ancestral political home. And the Democrats know that they can’t win with just street activists, enviros, and self-appointed “social justice warriors.”
Whew! That’s been a lot of ground to cover, but then, if time permitted, one could delineate 100 takeaways, not just 10. And over time, time will permit.