There Is No ‘After Trump’
FOX NEWS NOW RECOGNIZES what Conservatism Inc. has steadfastly denied. Donald Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential election. “A stunning victory,” said Megyn Kelly of Trump’s win in Indiana this evening, one that “cannot be overstated.” Even NPR snubbed its nose at the #NeverTrump navel-gazers earlier this week. Finally everyone has caught up with what Drudge concluded after Trump’s victory in the Nevada caucuses on February 24: he is the nominee. It’s a little late for the Weekly Standard to be writing about “The Trump Temptation.” John Kasich’s “guarantee” of a contested convention is now at an end. Ted Cruz’s campaign for human president has been engulfed in the flames of his campaign logo.
Since the media are only now accepting Trump’s nomination, we venture a broader point. There is no “after Trump.”
By this assertion we mean that Washington columnists’ efforts to destroy the Trump candidacy based on fantasies about what the world “after Trump” will look like are delusional. Whether it’s Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat, Ezra Klein or David Brooks (on whom more below), the 2016 campaign has offered every indication that the sentiments propelling Trump’s nomination are here to stay. Those sentiments have been in place since the establishment of NAFTA in 1994 and the WTO in 1995. They will only grow stronger. Every candidate who attempted to represent that constituency, from Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan to Rick Santorum, carried far too much baggage, social conservative or otherwise. Yet all the while the media were slamming someone like Santorum for being out of touch, it was both political parties who were out of touch with popular discontent regarding America’s decline.
Trump has put those voters back on the map. Even Charles Krauthammer this evening acknowledged that to “flip a few of the traditionally blue states, particularly in the Rust Belt” would be a plausible Trumpian path to the White House. “Something is emerging,” Juan Williams observed, “we just can’t tell the shape of it yet.” In spite of not knowing what it is and never having anticipated it, the intelligentsia assure us that path is impossible. Then, like Van Jones, let’s think—as this blog alone has done—about the conditions which make “After Trump” impossible.
IN TODAY’S INDIANA PRIMARY, 92% of Republicans explained the motivation of their vote based on concerns over the economy. This in spite of Barack Obama’s claim that America has the “strongest, most durable economy in the world,” and his complaints about those who have “talked down” the economy. According to Fox News exit polls, Trump won Republican voters who described themselves as moderates (61%) as well as those who called themselves “somewhat conservative” (55%), while losing the “very conservative” vote to Cruz by only 6 percentage points.
How is the economy doing? U.S. companies are in an earnings recession. Manufacturers “barely grew in April.” Growth worries are back. Warren Buffet doubts our GDP numbers. Factory activity remains sluggish. Who are ordinary Americans going to believe, Janet Yellen or their lyin’ eyes?
Trump voters’ concern for economic malaise does not, however, “spell doom for social conservatives“—at least not in the way the media think. For those conservative writers and politicians who think that ritual invocations of socially conservative positions are sufficient to keep conservative voters on the reservation, doom does indeed await. The character of the primary election is so different from that of the general election, though, that most social conservatives will fall in line. After all, as everyone from the reformicons to Charles Murray have pointed out in recent years, “liberals” have have better marriage and family outcomes than those in putatively socially conservative rural areas. But if your coal mine is shut down in western Pennsylvania by a coalition of Democratic and Republican oligarchs-in-waiting, there’s not much left to do except for meth.
Trump’s approach on social questions is more Marxist (in the good sense)—a theme we will explore in a later edition of Trumpian Accomplishments. Economic policy must be consciously related to real judgments about what the city and its constituent parts, including the family, are to be. One cannot fly the flag of free trade and patch on a few policy positions about family life. Trump aims at a Greatness Agenda which will produce better outcomes than (the little that) social conservative policy has ever been able to do. Trump stands to gain from shedding the mantle of “ideological” conservatives, most of whom—no matter what they told exit pollsters today—will vote for him in November.
Conservative outfits that have offered a failed mix of social conservative talk and neoliberal action are now scrambling to explain what they didn’t anticipate. National Review‘s circulation numbers in “conservative” states like Indiana have naturally fallen in recent years (we know on good authority). National Review has consciously shifted from subscriptions among real Americans to blog visits along the Northeast Corridor. Since National Review has already disowned Americans in flyover territory, we call on National Review to release its circulation numbers from the portions of America that it once upon a time claimed to represent. In return we will release our own statistics—or we would except that, valuing secrecy ourselves, we can only imagine what it means to our readers on Capitol Hill, at the offices of D.C. think-tanks, and throughout the political complex.
Carl Cameron, for example, reported shortly after the announcement of Trump’s victory (without citing this journal as a source) that Trump had not relied on Big Data in the primary, and would need to in order to win the general election. As with every other piece of “advice” given by the media, the Trump campaign should confidently disregard this one as well. The New Hampshire libertarian who seemed so comfortable with the Romney campaign has been in open warfare with Trump for a year. While his advice is worthless, at least he is reading the right sources.
Among the pollsters, as recently as April 13 leading contrarian indicator Nate Silver had forecast Trump’s defeat in Indiana. He said Trump would take nine delegates from Indiana, “projecting the state to turn from a Trump victory into an overall loss.” Silver’s earlier expectations that Trump had no chance of winning the GOP nomination went up in flames long ago. He illustrates the impossibility of practicing social science when one lacks even the faintest political sense: Trump knew that immigration and trade were not on the political map but should be, and he required no Big Data to learn it.
WRITERS WHO FAILED TO ANTICIPATE Trump’s success know they are in no position to describe the world “after Trump.” (“After Trump, Will It Be Walker?,” asked Amy Davidson.) Their continuous appeals to the situation “after Trump” are a transparent rhetorical ploy designed to reassure themselves that Trump is not inevitable. One must now consult Slate’s Trump Apocalypse Watch in order to escape the conservative media’s bottomless pit of delusion, self-forgiving and self-loathing.
The latest “After Trump” iteration comes from David Brooks, whom some still evidently consider an interesting source of ideas. Thirty years into his column-writing formula—read recent social science, reconceive world on said basis, hop on Acela, write 800 words—one would think the charm would have faded. Trying to bury the Trump candidacy through cheap “post-Trump” rhetoric has been going on now since the beginning of the Trump campaign. As it requires zero intellectual effort, it’s an excellent way to fill the space when you’ve gotta phone it in (as Brooks’s latest appears to be).
“Up until now,” Brooks opines, “America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.”
At this point you might be forgiven for thinking that a reasonable response would be to analyze the causes American decline. Why can the “lone individual” of Brooks’s imagination no longer “rise from the bottom”? Has the long decline of the American economy into technology-studded stagnation been brought about by reversible causes? But stop, stop—stop this line of reasoning.
What people suffering from economic malaise need is a better nar·ra·tive. Cuddle up, American people. David Brooks has a lullaby for you.
Except he doesn’t.
“I don’t know what the new national story will be,” Brooks continues, “but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.”
Does this suffering stem from any discernible cause? Did malaise just seize the nation? Again, stop asking. Fait-accomplism, as we said recently, means that the fundamental character of the situation cannot be changed.
Detroit: a city in need of a nighttime story read by David Brooks.
In the last decade no national politician has stepped forward on the Agenda of American Greatness, though some have tried related versions. None has done so with any degree of success approaching that of Trump.
In the time before Trump was identified as a vehicle for the reasserted possibility of a successful national economy, only “alt-right” publications showed any willingness to explore questions of trade and immigration. Precisely because they were excluded from mainstream conservative thought, the “alt” part often won out.
Now, however, Trump is the sole standard-bearer of the Republican Party. He is the political entrepreneur who tapped a source of discontent that had been intentionally shoved to the side by mainstream conservatism—a discontent at best misunderstood by the earlier “populists” who anticipated his rise.
For now, that movement is his to lead. As we have said before, Trump would not have been our chosen vehicle for the discontent now identified through Trumpism. But the character of that discontent is such that we ourselves never could have chosen its leader. A discontented right has only itself to blame for ignoring the plight of middle-American workers whose grandparents were, in living memory, proud contributors to a great nation.
It is time to stop dreaming about the world “after Trump.” Futurologism could better spend its energies imagining how it was that Trump beat Hillary.