Is There Any Good News?

November 9, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

The next four years are likely to be, in many ways, a disaster (to use a favorite word of our president-elect). But maybe there are some bright spots.

1. Deficit scolds. That’s Paul Krugman’s term for politicians and conservative think-tankers who opposed many of Obama’s policies on the grounds that they would drastically increase the deficit. What we needed, so the argument went was “fiscal responsibility.” In many situations, that argument was not just bad policy, it was bad economics.

But once Republicans are in power, they will no longer cry wolf. As we saw during the Bush years, when it comes to spending lots of money on stuff that Republicans really like – tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, or a nifty little war in Iraq – their worry about the deficit vanishes. No more scolding.

2. Sexual sophistication. European voters don’t care much about what their political leaders do in their private sex lives. They see that sphere as separate from the public world of policy. Conservative Americans, especially the religiously conservative, have usually taken a different view – that a man who is sexually immoral cannot possibly govern wisely.

As I showed in a recent post (here), Trump has gotten these conservatives to lighten up. They have now become cosmopolitan, almost European, in their separation of sex and statesmanship. Their votes yesterday have given us a president with two divorces, several affairs, and a penchant for grabbing women by the pussy (if they are attractive enough) and walking in on naked teenage girls. We are now a nation where each of us is only a click away from nude photos of our First Lady.  Makes the French seem prudish by comparison.

3.  Re-moralization. Four years ago, Charles Murray called our attention to the demoralization of the White working class. They had become disaffected and no longer attached to the dominant institutions of society – work, education, family. They felt that they had been screwed by the system, a system run by a distant and disdaining cultural elite. That feeling, said Murray, was accurate (more here). Their America had been taken from them. 

This sentiment was the basis of Republican political strategy during the Obama years. If you want to take back “your” country from these usurpers, vote Republican. (See my post “Repo Men” from five years ago.)

Now that they have taken it back, perhaps these White working class people will feel more a part of society. They will stay in school, get married and stay married and raise their children in traditional families. They will re-adopt the work ethic and stay in their jobs and in the labor force. Rates of drug use, suicide, and ill health will decrease.

Will any of these happen? Yes, but the changes will not be permanent. The first two are examples of people altering their ideas – about economics or morality – to suit their political preferences. Given a Democratic politician or policies, these people will revert to their former ideas, all the while insisting that fiscal responsibility and conventional sexual morality are rock-solid, inviolable principles.

As for the White working class, I suspect that the economy is far more important than their sense of political efficacy. If Trump can bring back industrial jobs to the heartland as he guarantees he will, their participation in work, family, and school may reverse its downward course. It is possible. But if we do not see a return to a 20th-century economy, the Trumpists will somehow have to resolve the dissonance. It will still be their country; the party and the man who represent them will still be dominant. But the reality of their lives may remain unimproved. The ways they might resolve that dissonance include some possibilities I’d rather not think about right now. These have been visible for a while, but if we lose the economic gains of the Obama years, things could get really nasty.

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