Opinion

America's elites deserve Donald Trump

They brought this upon themselves

Don't be entertained by Donald Trump. Be terrified of him.

That was Vox Editor-in-chief Ezra Klein's reaction to Trump's New Hampshire primary win, amplified this past weekend by a new video. "[Trump] pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament," Klein wrote. "He's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he's also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante." My colleague Ryan Cooper has argued Trump is a proto-fascist who would likely wield the powers of the presidency in monstrous fashion.

But Trump is something else too: a primal scream from a large-but-forgotten chunk of the country that's been immiserated by the upheavals in the American economy.

That failure is on us. And by "us" I mean the donor class, policymakers, politicians, and political apparatuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties. But also people like me, Klein, and the rest of the class that staffs the media and think tanks, runs the upper echelons of American society, and sets the terms of the political discourse.

We all deserve Trump.

Even within the Republican camp, Trump is unique. He cares not one whit for GOP economic orthodoxy and is happy to embrace "class warfare" rhetoric. He support is disproportionately lower class and concentrated in areas where people are less educated and communities are dying — figuratively and literally — of national socioeconomic neglect. Cruz is the Tea Party candidate, and while his camp may be similar to Trump's, the class divide between the camps and consequent differences in economic priorities are important. As for Marco Rubio, he's angling for upper class GOP votes and to implement the worst impulses of the Republican corporate elite to strip-mine the American economy.

Conservative movement apparatchiks treat Trump voters with contempt, telling working-poor and working-class whites to repair their personal characters, get off the government dole, and adapt to the New Economy. To their credit, some reform-minded conservatives like my colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty have grilled their party on its massive moral failure here. Unfortunately, thanks to a host of reasons, the conservative movement is completely unable or unwilling to contemplate the social analysis or policy commitments that would actually help.

Which brings us to the Democratic Party.

It should be speaking directly to the white working class, as Bernie Sanders does. Instead, the party has built its platform — a combination of centrist economics, progressive identity politics, and technocracy — that may hold together the Obama coalition, but is primarily designed to address the concerns of the liberal upper class. They're the only part of that coalition you might lose with a hard left populist push on economics.

The brouhaha over Gerald Friedman's economic analysis of Sanders' platform is a case in point. The analysis is arguably flawed, but it was built with basic yeoman economic models. Constructive engagement would not have been hard. Instead, Paul Krugman and several other economic bigwigs ripped the analysis in dismissive and deeply personal terms, using it as an opportunity for political theater and to discipline the Democrats' leftist base. It was a display of cultural force, not an attempt to learn or adapt.

That's of a piece with the worst instincts the Clinton campaign has sometimes shown while grappling with Bernie Sanders' movement: Sneer at their naiveté and occasionally even undercut progressive principles, rather than pushing their own platform leftward to co-opt some of Sanders' mojo. (Or at least up until 12 hours ago, when the Clinton campaign, to its credit, added an entirely new and more ambitious section to its health care platform.) And with the Sanders revolt endangered, the strategy seemed to have worked.

But it's no coincidence that Sanders' strongest demographics — young people, lower income voters, and the white working class — are ones that have been thoroughly stomped by the post-2008 economy. Nor is it a coincidence that national polling shows Sanders beating Trump specifically by bigger margins than Clinton. He's been the only one making a bottom-up appeal to the material needs, challenges, and livelihoods of the full sweep of the American working class. And that positions Sanders to siphon off some of the same energy that's driving Trump's support, and channel it in a more humane and just direction.

As The American Conservative's Jonathan Coppage put it: "The demos has never been respectable. That doesn't mean you're under any less obligation to serve their pain." And if no one will serve their pain, then Trump will at least indulge their rage and venom.

America's elites brought this upon themselves. Are you not entertained?

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