Trumpism after Trump

Predicting election outcomes is always risky (for example, the People’s Action Party could lose the current election in Singapore), but life involves taking some risks. So I’m going to predict that Trump is going to lose in November, and lose badly*. He is far behind in the polls, substantially further than in 2016. More relevantly perhaps, the resurgence of the pandemic in Arizona, Florida and Texas has ended any chance that the economy will be successfully reopened and the pandemic clearly under control by November, not to mention giving the citizens of those states very personal reasons to vote against him.

What will happen to Trumpism after Trump’s defeat, in the US and globally? Here are some very disorganised thoughts.

A big part of Trump’s appeal is that he is a winner, and a big part of Trumpist mythology comes from wins against the odds, as with Brexit and Johnson and, more periphally, with the re-election of the Morrison government in Australia (which had the good sense to dump most of its ideology for the duration of the crisis, but is now returning to its roots). With that gone, Trump’s support will be much weakened So, the stage will be set for a fight in which the hard neoliberals who controlled the party before Trump attempt to reassert themselves, breaking with Trump’s explicit racism while still trying to keep the Repubs white voting base behind them.

On the other hand, Trump has lots of supporters who will refuse to accept the reality of a defeat (not enough, I think, and particularly not enough in positions of power, for him to stop the election or overturn its result). And there are more competent Trumpists, in the mould of Viktor Orban, keen to push an ethnonationlist, racist and authoritarian policy program without Trump’s clownish demagoguery.

Internationally, a defeat for Trump probably won’t make much difference to the ethnonationalist voting base of the Trumpist right. That base has always been there, ready to turn out whenever some other group can be identified as the enemy. But it will, I think, have a significant effect on the right wing of the political class. Some of them will find themselves outside the bounds of legitimate discussion (this is already happening in a small way in Australia), while others will engage in some quick reinvention.

The big question is whether hard neoliberalism can recover. On the one hand, the financial sector still has huge economic power, which usually translates into political power. And the common-sense economics of the Swabian housewife still retains its grip on many. On the other hand, just about everything that is identified with hard neoliberalism (globalisation of trade and financial flows, the hypertrophic growth of the financial sector, trickle-down economics and more) is massively unpopular. That’s particularly true of those under 40, who never experienced the illusory prosperity of the 1990s, or the crises of the 1970s (minor by comparison with the last decade, but a massive shock to expectations conditioned by the postwar boom).

The best hope for the US right is that Biden and the Democrats are unable to fix the catastrophic mess they will inherit. More on this soon, perhaps.

  • I meant to have a footnote about the possibility of Trump rejecting the election outcome, but covered it with a parenthetical statement.

29 thoughts on “Trumpism after Trump

  1. I am fairly sure that if the Singaporean population votes the PAP out they will be told to go back and vote again – and this time do it right.

    The Republicans will cheat, lie and steal, so a Trump defeat is not guaranteed, remembering that the US electoral system is fragmented, vulnerable and weighted towards the right. Trump’s chances are not good, but not hopeless while people like Kemp in Georgia or Abbot in Texas count the votes.

    Can the oligarchs at the top of the financial system maintain the globalised world that supports their lifestyle in the face of pandemic and climate change? Will local elites part ways with them? Possibly – but if they do, the outcome is as likely to be illiberal and authoritarian as anything else.

  2. If Trump wins again, the USA is certainly on the path to disintegration and collapse. This would be not so much because of Trump himself but because a Trump win would indicate that the proportion of right-extremists, lunatics, idiots and science-deniers was too high to permit, sustain and run a modern, democratic and technological nation. Bread and circuses control a nation but also render it idiotic. Too big a critical mass of idiots sinks a nation, especially when it faces exogenous threats as well.

  3. The US is extremely lucky their first Boulangiste president is somewhat lazy, not very intelligent, not well-informed and has no military record.

  4. The Republicans will cheat, lie and steal, so a Trump defeat is not guaranteed, remembering that the US electoral system is fragmented, vulnerable and weighted towards the right. Trump’s chances are not good, but not hopeless while people like Kemp in Georgia or Abbot in Texas count the votes.

    Pennsylvania has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Secretary of State: they are not going to steal the State’s electoral votes for Trump. Michigan has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Secretary of State: they are not going to steal the State’s electoral votes for Trump. North Carolina has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Secretary of State: they are not going to steal the State’s electoral votes for Trump. Wisconsin has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Secretary of State: they are not going to steal the State’s electoral votes for Trump.

  5. Whoever wins, alas, we can be sure of more house and senate paralysis. More extreme polarisation and more careerism. Stronger China and further rise to autocratic control globally. Biden can’t unite the Divided States of America, but his admin can mend relationships with allies and bring some unity back to global democracy.

  6. Whoever wins, alas, we can be sure of more house and senate paralysis.

    If the same party has majorities in both the House and the Senate, there’s no reason for them to stalemate each other, and if the President is also of the same party, there’s no reason for President and Congress to stalemate each other.

  7. Democracy requires the consent of the supporters of the party(ies) not in power. The endless exaccerbation of division in the USA, by Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and the like, means that whoever wins the next election(s), the other side will not agree to being governed by them. Democrats will not consent to another Trump term; Republicans will objecto to any decisions made by Democrat leaders. The only rational solution is to dissolve the country into relatively homogenous tribes over the next decade or two.

  8. In the past, party discipline was very weak, so Congress could never pass anything. Assuming a Democratic majority in the Senate, the next step must be to kill off the filibuster and start passing laws.

  9. “…. (which had the good sense to dump most of its ideology for the duration of the crisis, but is now returning to its roots)”

    Hopefully, enough people see that ideology for what it is: a means for the ticket clippers, rent seekers etc al to feather their nests at the expense of everyone else.

    I’m not sure how you can have an ideology that “works” only in the good times, but has to be abandoned when things get tough.

  10. True, but that “If” is very iffy 🙂

    If you mean that it’s uncertain whether the same party will have a majority in both houses, obviously that’s true; but if you mean that it’s highly unlikely, I disagree. As far as it’s possible to judge this far out, it’s something that could plausibly go either way.

    In the past, party discipline was very weak, so Congress could never pass anything.

    In some instances (not all, I expect, but some), it was weak party discipline that made it possible for legislation to be passed. With strong party discipline, it becomes more difficult for a President to sway legislators of the other party to support legislative proposals; with weaker party discipline, it’s less difficult.

  11. Even Forbes writes:

    “Estimates are that as many as 2 million Americans could die from the coronavirus. As the United States becomes the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s structural deficiencies are on full display. A profiteering healthcare system in combination with a broken government and a vacuum in moral leadership have left the population naked to the predations of disease. For the United States to effectively manage the current crisis, it would need to marshal a government capacity it no longer possesses.”

    The least sentence is the line: The USA needs to “marshal a government capacity it no longer possesses”. First it has to rebuild that capacity. A return to statism is the only hope. The article is titled “The Revolution after the Crisis”.

    People should be in no doubt, The USA and the world face a revolutionary crisis at all levels. The existing system of neoliberalism in the West is nonviable. It cannot survive. Attempts to prolong it with the life support of subsidies for the rich, the banking system and fossil fuel industrial capitalism will collapse the system even faster. The rich will not willingly change the system. Only the people can change the system with revolution. Handled correctly and with luck it could be a peaceful revolution.

    This is a watershed moment in other ways too. World leadership has passed from the West to the East. World quasi-hegemony (not true hegemony in either case) has passed from the USA to China. Democracy itself is in grave peril precisely because democracy capitulated to capitalism and plutocracy. Democracy is non-existent in Russia and China. Totalitarian China has weathered the crisis better than any large nation. The entire West is in trouble. I wonder if we can even survive. The stupidity and incompetence on display in the USA and the UK has been beyond belief. They appear to be self-destructing.

  12. “but if you mean that it’s highly unlikely, I disagree. As far as it’s possible to judge this far out, it’s something that could plausibly go either way.”

    J-D, yup, you’re correct. Republican voters appear to be becoming more rusted-on with social media news feeds and blinkered confirmation bias and many democrats have been pushed even further away from Republican tenets from Trump’s repulsiveness, but yes, there still is a significant (maybe unappreciated) level of voter volatility there.

  13. Agreed that Biden will win. It looks as if Black Democrats were wise to pick the bland Biden, as close to Generic Democrat Pol as you can get, since he is sensible enough to keep a low profile while Trump implodes.

    The interesting question is whether Biden will win big, carrying the Senate, or small, leaving McConnell in place as Majority Leader to obstruct (and we know he is very good at this). Here’s an argument for the wave theory.

    Trump’s approval rating peaked on April 5 at 45.8%, according to the 538 metapoll. It has slid since, and is now 5 points lower at 40.6%. The timing rules out the Floyd murder on May 25 and subsequent protests as the trigger. The one event that fits is Trump’s call for an early end to covid lockdowns, on March 24. Two weeks for the public to realize he was serious is about right. It’s a signature policy, an effective one in that many Republican governors have followed, unpopular – and disastrous. It will keep on being disastrous. There is a small chance Trump will reverse himself, but that would be a humiliation and almost as bad electorally as sticking to it. The virus will keep on doing its thing, and Trump is plainly incapable of leading a rational policy response, or even of getting out of the way of those who could. The death toll (currently 128,000) will motor past hecatomb parity with Spain (200,000) and probably with the UK as well (300,000). Prediction: his approval rating will keep sinking to Nixonian levels, and Biden will win by a landslide.

    Worth remembering that bigger Democratic majorities do not necessarily push the centre of gravity of the party to the left. If McGrath wins against the odds in Kentucky or Hegar in Texas, they are closer to Klobuchar politically than to AOC. (McGrath is waiting for the results of a close primary tonight; Hegar’s is on July 14.) However, a very narrow majority gives a lot of veto power to centrists, as Obama found with ACA, and the mechanics of assembling votes are easier if you have a majority of half a dozen.

  14. Stop press: McGrath just won her primary, defeating progressive Black state Rep. Charles Booker by 7,000 votes when the race was called. This is, sadly, the best outcome. Booker (BLM, GND, Medicare for All – the full AOC ticket) would have had no chance against McConnell in November. A white woman ex-fighter pilot has a slim one. She will now have to tack left herself to secure Booker’s votes.

  15. It is almost certain Trump and his Republican enablers will lose in November. The only question being by what margin. Note I said Trump and his enablers would lose, not that Biden would win. As sad and disturbing as the Trump experiment has been, what should also be of concern, is the best alternative the progressive side of politics in US could come up with is Joe Biden. Whatever ones opinion of Biden’s abilities or lack thereof he is 77 years old. Which means he will be 81 by the end of his first term, 85 at the end of a second term. It will be the daunting task of whoever replaces Trump to re-unite a nation and repair its damaged institutions. This is no job for an octogenarian, and certainly not one with Biden’s known abilities. One can only hope the Democrats choose very carefully Biden’s Vice Presidential running mate, because they are very likely to be called upon to complete the restoration and repair that is required.

  16. It will be the daunting task of whoever replaces Trump to re-unite a nation and repair its damaged institutions.

    Maybe some institutions should not be repaired.

  17. Average vote for far right parties in EU country national elections —>>> Eighties 1.1% (8 parties), Nineties 4.4%(24 parties) , Noughties 4.7% (24 parties), 2010-2018 7.5% (34 parties). [compiled by Cas Mudde] .Is there a Conservative party in any Liberal democracy that can win without embracing (and therefore mainstreaming) the far right ? Far Right ideas were universally marginalised after WWII ,not anymore.

  18. 7,5% actually sounds low. They might have excluded some parties because there is someone even more right wing beyond them e.g. Ukip and BNP. Still no cause for worry as such. The attitudes in all likelyhood were already there before. They don´t necessarily get more destructive for society when there is a party that huffs and puffs them overt instead of nods behind doors within the right wing of a big conservative party.

  19. After the Allies defeated the Nazis, a denazification program was enacted with a long term plan to remove the nazi ideals from the german population. It barely lasted 2 years because the public was not as brainwashed as the allies thought/expected them to be. Similarly I expect that Trumpism will fade quickly, although Trump himself won’t. However, this does not mean that the Murdoch right will disappear. Instead they will morph into a new populist movement with a catchy new name/logo and front man. The money will pour into new astroturf front groups and the USA is in the cycle again.
    If the Democrats win the trifecta it will be useful up to a point. What is more critical is for the Democrats to win the state governorships as 2020 is a census year and they get to do the gerrymandering. This would mean that congress would not be run by a minority clique. It would also assist if they expand the electoral roles.
    Can Biden unite the country? Maybe. Truman was an accidental president and made a reasonable job (given the times and circumstances), so it is possible.

  20. I wonder if, assuming Trump loses badly, Trump has inoculated the US against authoritarianism. I’d think it will be quite a long time before they elect another billionaire with no government experience.

  21. >the People’s Action Party could lose the current election in Singapore

    I actually laughed out loud when I read that.

    On Trump, it’s a good thing that he has not exactly endeared himself with the US military, because it might be required to enforce a Biden victory in November.

  22. @Sunshine. That’s one of the problems faced by the hard neoliberals in many countries. They can’t win without an overt alliance with the Trumpist right, but that’s toxic for them in all sorts of ways. Lucky breaks have concealed this so far, but a big defeat for Trump in the US will have global repercussions, as I sais in the OP.

  23. How significant of a role does the (money behind) media have to play re the outcome in November? A hard push by the Murdochs et al as evidenced by the recent outcomes in the USA (last election), the UK (Johnson), and Australia (Morrison’s ‘out of nowhere’ win) can really put a finger on the scales. Are we not a few dirty jabs at Biden away from this being a much closer race, given gerrymandering etc?

    Maybe it won’t impact things this time around – but it’s not a particularly comforting thought if corporate dollars want more preferential treatment from the tax code than the democrats are willing to give.

  24. Martin Wolf in today’s AFR (paywalled) argues that the Covid-19 crisis has had one beneficial effect. It has increased the demand for competence in government. He writes “The contrasts between Angela Merkel’s Germany and Donald Trump’s US or Boris Johnson’s Britain are just too glaring”. and “Above all, government is back, as is a desire for competence”.

    Of course, there are so many massive costs stemming from the crisis – health primarily and also economic – as well as giving a free hand to the totalitarians in China. But this new status for quality government, while seemingly a low-level almost self-evident virtue, makes sense in communities that voted for incompetent “non-politicians” as a sort of protest.

    Yes, I think Trump might be finished. What a disastrous move by unhappy Americans it was to elect this clown.

  25. Ikonoclast writes: “The USA and the world face a revolutionary crisis at all levels. The existing system of neoliberalism in the West is nonviable. It cannot survive. Attempts to prolong it with the life support of subsidies for the rich, the banking system and fossil fuel industrial capitalism will collapse the system even faster. The rich will not willingly change the system. Only the people can change the system with revolution.”
    Human overpopulation and its consequence, accelerated climate change, will see to this. Australia’s challenge is to understand how this will affect us, to develop a plan for the rest of this century, and to make the changes that are necessary.

  26. ” She (McGrath) will now have to tack left herself to secure Booker’s votes …”

    That’s not how US politics works. If you’re a Dem you almost always tack rightwards after the primary to try and peel off Republican voters. Usually Republican candidates do the corresponding leftwards shift (ie move from being a plumb crazy gun nut/racist/happy clapper to a “small government” conservative). The primary system is a major contributor to their weird political culture.

  27. On Trump don’t forget he has never won a majority of American voters; he is a freak of their electoral system. He only got a plurality of GOP voters for the nomination (if there had been preferential voting he would have got nowhere even within Republicans), 1.5m more people voted for Hillary (flaws and all) than for him, 3m more people voted Democrat than Republican in the mid terms.

    But their electoral system is so crap you can’t count on him not doing it again. Certainly I’d count on a big recovery in the polls by him as the election approaches; he’ll use the full bag of incumbent tricks to do so (I especially think a surprise unprovoked attack on someone like Iran is likely – war is always initially popular).

  28. According to a 2019 study – Inversions in US Presidential Elections: 1836-2016 by
    Michael Geruso, Dean Spears, Ishaana Talesara (https://www.nber.org/papers/w26247), summarised at
    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/17/20868790/republicans-lose-popular-vote-win-electoral-college
    there is ‘a small chance of a Republican victory even in elections where Democrats win the popular vote by about six points… Historically red states like Texas and Arizona are trending toward Democrats, but most likely not enough to flip those states in the next election. If Democrats narrow Trump’s margins in those states, while Trump barely holds onto states like Florida or Wisconsin, the next Democratic candidate could win the popular vote by 5 million votes or more — and still lose the Electoral College.’

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