Some time ago, as in over a decade ago, I went to hear Paul Krugman speak at the Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. I believe he had recently published The Great Unraveling, so that would put it some time around 2003. He referred to the fact that the economic conservatives had little in common with the Christian right with whom they had aligned themselves to be able to pass conservative economic legislation that would not have popular support on its own. If my memory serves, he said that he had told business people he knew, who seemed to think this was a wonderful little trick they had discovered, that they would come to regret it one day. He said that they would not be able to get “the genie back in the bottle.” ultimately, they would not be able to control the force they had unleashed.
It took longer than I expected, but it looks like Krugman’s prediction is coming true, at least in part. I expected the rebellion to have more of a religious tone and less of a populist one, and I think he did too. I expected someone more like Sarah Palin, not Donald Trump. Of course, when Krugman gave that talk, the Tea Party Movement was not yet a force. The libertarian rhetoric and fetishization of symbols of American culture had not yet been married to the Christian right in a form of a complete sub-cultural identity.
When I saw the headline that Sarah Palin had said that she wanted a president who was tough rather tan one who could win a game of Trivial Pursuit, Krugman’s image of the escaped genie sprung to mind. I’m hesitant to make any predictions. Trump could implode at any time. One of the more typical party candidates could find an appeal that could work. I’ve read some blog posts written by people who support Trump and apparently the fact that his candidacy could destroy the Republican Party is indeed part of his appeal.
The Democrats shouldn’t be too self-satisfied. They’re only a few years away from where the Republican Party is right now. The word sclerotic springs to mind as a good descriptor for the party. Just a week or two ago, when seemingly everyone, including me, was assuming Trump was going to pull out as soon as he got whatever boost in name recognition I assumed he was seeking, the Democrats were busy wringing their hands over their lack of potential candidates. That it took them this long to notice that they had not been nurturing state level and local talent is mismanagement of the highest order. This is a dearth decades in the making and will not be fixed anytime soon. That they have been trying to plaster over this hole with solicitous overtures to the most radical elements in the country makes me wonder if they’re not heading for a similar showdown in the future themselves.
The Democrats should heed the warning of the Republicans’ current turmoil and hold the far left at arm’s length.