We have become a nation of flip-floppers. It’s now remarkably routine for politicians to suddenly abandon long-held positions and adopt new ones that they would have considered heretical only a couple of years—or even a couple of weeks—earlier. During the Obama era, for example, Democrats lauded Silicon Valley as a champion of progressive values. But today Democrats have grown hostile to Facebook, accusing it of subverting democracy by hosting Russia-linked ads during the 2016 election, and blame Google and Amazon for crushing competition and eroding privacy (see Best Columns: Business). Some conservatives, meanwhile, have abandoned their support for an unfettered free market and demanded that the nation’s tech giants—which they regard as hostile to right-leaning views—be regulated like public utilities. President Trump, of course, is the master of the 180. After repeatedly vowing to deport all illegal immigrants, he now wants to protect the 800,000 or so “Dreamers”—undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and shielded by President Obama’s DACA program (see Talking Points).
There’s almost no political cost to be paid for these U-turns. Among Republicans who voted for Trump in the primaries, his approval rating still stands at 98 percent, despite his policy reversals on immigration and the war in Afghanistan and his willingness to break with GOP orthodoxy on issues like the debt ceiling. Such ideological violations might anger the party’s elite, but political scientists at Brigham Young University have found that many Republican voters are happy to shift their views to the left on issues ranging from abortion to taxes if they’re told that’s the way Trump is heading. As Thomas Edsall noted in The New York Times, American politics is now “less a competition of ideas and more a struggle between two teams.” In that tu ssle, loyalty to your team and its captain is far more important than loyalty to any policy agenda.