I got an email about my post on Trump from an old friend Fred Block, a professor of sociology at UC Davis, and the author of pathbreaking books on the relationship between government and the economy. Here is what Fred wrote:
What a week. Who would imagine that Bannon would do the political equivalent of “suicide by cop” by calling Bob Kuttner? But I wanted to respond to your second childhood post about Trump.
One of the reasons that I was so freaked out in November, especially after the announcement that Bannon would be in the White House was that I got George W. Bush wrong. I imagined that after running a fairly moderate campaign in 2000, he would try governing from the center, but instead we got Cheney, shock and awe, and an attempt to privatize social security. I think the issue is the shift of the Republican base to the right that now makes the move to the center terribly risky. Remember that GHW Bush did try to move to the center and it was one important factor in his losing in 1992—as previously loyal Republican voters defected to Perot.
Another way to say it is that Republicans moving to the center now means becoming something close to right wing social democrats. It would mean, for example, saying that okay we are going to fix Obamacare by reworking the exchanges and actually doing something about prescription drug prices. And we will revive U.S. manufacturing by building on Obama’s advanced manufacturing institutes. We will fight opioid addiction with a dramatic increase in drug treatment spending. Moreover funding these programs means that we actually have to raise some taxes so we are going to introduce a VAT. In short, they pretty much have to go all the way to being Eisenhower Republicans.
Now, of course, that is what we want to happen because if the competition is to see which party is better at devising government programs that will help solve social and economic programs, it would make it possible for the Dems to move left. But I think that conservative parties only make this kind of Christian Democratic turn when the threat from the electoral left is already very strong—and we haven’t reached that point.
So this gets us to Trump. The nature of the Republican coalition keeps him from moving to the center. Note, that despite all of the talk, there has been no infrastructure plan—essentially, I think, because Ryan and McConnell said that they were against anything that involved a significant budgetary commitment. So all they can do is some smoke and mirrors type of privatizing effort. So basically Trump has nothing to offer the base of white, high school educated voters. He cannot protect their health care or their retirement and he cannot get them jobs.
So what is left? Racism and hostility to immigrants. Interpersonally, he wants people to like him whether they are black, Jewish, or whatever. But he has found racist rhetoric politically empowering for a long time—in campaigning against the Central Park Five and as a birther and it is now—along with saber rattling—one of the only political tools he has.
I think the link to personality is through bullying. Here, I think Josh Marshall is right about the dominance politics—he operates by demeaning others with name calling and threats. And in a bizarre way, he has nearly perfect pitch as a bully—even when his taunts are obviously projections of his own qualities. The resort to racist rhetoric is just another type of bullying that comes completely naturally to him and it is basically impersonal. [He doesn’t actually believe that Ted Cruz is a liar or that Mexicans are rapists, but he still needs to say it.]
So this is his elective affinity with the Klan and the Neo-Nazis. If he condemns them unequivocally, he is embracing the political correctness that says that you are not allowed to demean entire groups based on prejudicial stereotypes. But then he wouldn’t be able to say that Mexicans are rapists and Muslims are terrorists. In short, even with Bannon gone, he does not really have a choice but to double down on racism—it is all he has got.
John B. Judis is Editor-At-Large at Talking Points Memo. He was a senior editor of The New Republic and senior writer for The National Journal. He is the author most recently of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports, 2016). He has written six other books, including Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (Scribner, 2004), The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira (Scribner, 2002), and The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and Betrayal of Public Trust (Pantheon, 2000). He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, and The Washington Post. Born in Chicago, he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Silver Spring, MD.