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November 06th 2016 print

John O’Sullivan

America’s Choice

Mrs Clinton is plainly a globalist like President Obama, Donald Trump an opponent—if not the best one. But this election will not decide the issue which of its nature pits most voters against the progressive elites. It’s your politics for the next century

vote 2016Five weeks ago I summed up the state of the US presidential race in the Weekend Australian. After a long stretch in the primaries that had produced one surprise after another, I wrote, the Trump-Clinton battled had settled down to a surprising if unedifying stability:

Maybe the best metaphor for the current state of the race is one Trump himself has used: the “fixed” fight. On this occasion, however, the Mob has blundered and “persuaded” both candidates to take a fall . . . Each is fighting to lose, moreover, in his and her distinctive ways: Clinton is being undermined by the continuing drip-drip-drip of her own emails that show her to have lied and broken federal laws during and since her time as Secretary of State; Trump is being derailed at intervals by his own gaffes and insults . . . Both presidential candidates as a result are now two of the most distrusted people in America. Each overtakes the other at intervals depending on whether her lies or his gaffes dominate the headlines.

That pattern has continued to the time of writing which is just three weeks short of the election—and two weeks before Quadrant appears on the news-stands. Surprises still occur, of course, indeed more extravagantly than before, but they do so within this pattern of gaffe versus insult, or as the race deteriorates, scandal versus scandal. Just at present the accusations of sexual impropriety (and worse) by numerous women against Donald Trump dominate the headlines. But the steady flow of leaked emails from the Clinton campaign courtesy of Wikileaks, including dismissive remarks about Catholics and Latinos (supposedly constituencies within the Clinton camp) ensures that the candidates remain within hailing distance of each other.

Mrs Clinton is clearly ahead. Most pundits predict her clear victory, made sweeter by Democratic gains in the Senate. Her scandals have thus far been less scandalous than his scandals in the public mind—and less high-lighted by a largely partisan media. On the other hand it seems likely that Wikileaks’ supply of material will be at least as extensive as Trump’s legion of insulted women. And one less-noticed aspect of the campaign is the depth of consumer resistance to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s repeated comebacks from seeming catastrophe—the latest poll shows him trailing only four points behind his opponent despite the “bimbo eruptions”—are testimony to her dogged unpopularity as much as to his energy and media skills. Behind the sleaze factor, something deeper in American society apparently lies behind the resistance to Clinton and the refusal of the Trump rebellion to go away even as its champion implodes.

David Blankenhorn, the president of a small conservative think-tank devoted largely to reversing the decline of the American family, discovered that he didn’t know a single person who intended to vote for Donald Trump. He felt that was wrong in someone whose title was president of the Institute for American values. So he set off on a drive around America’s South-East—an electoral stronghold of Trumpism—to meet Trump voters and to find out what makes them tick. The results are collected in his article in the current American Interest magazine.

Among other things he found that the Trump voters were realistic, even cynical, about Trump. Those who supported him most strongly did so because they liked the fact that he was not bound by political correctness in speaking about immigration and similar issues. Paradoxically, some of the same people disliked his insults to others, his use of profane language, and his inability to control his own mouth–but liked what one might call his political profanities all the same. That lack of illusion about Trump helps explain why he has not been destroyed by the scandals plaguing him. They’ve been “factored in”.

Many of them were sceptical that Trump would do what he promised or succeed even if he tried. But they thought that he was much more likely than any other candidate to try and to succeed. As one voter said: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? He doesn’t do what he says he going to do? I’ve seen that for the last thirty years.”

Most of Blankenhorn’s interviewees, incidentally, were not badly off, not alcoholics or on drugs, and not unemployed. Not all of them are white or non-Hispanic (though most are). Many more are middle-class than underclass. But they are united by a feeling that the America they have known and loved, with its habits of trust and voluntary co-operation, is being replaced by a more stratified and less democratic society. If they are dispossessed of anything, they are culturally dispossessed.

This column appears in the November edition of Quadrant.
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Are they then populists or attracted by populism? Not if populism means a deep vein of wisdom in the common people. Almost all of them were coolly realistic in their assessments of people, including Trump, and their hopes for the future. What they asserted—and what pundits mistake for populism—is that there is a deep vein of arrogance and stupidity in the elites. Trump’s people do not glorify themselves but they are contemptuous of the elites, largely irrespective of party, that have governed America for decades.

They especially distrusted Hillary Clinton. Blankenhorn could not find a single person who liked or trusted her. At the same time they didn’t see her as anyone very different from those governing them now. She was simply the most representative person of the kind of elitist progressive politicians they disliked and feared.

It is worth adding to what Blankenhorn reveals that there are many ways of defining these voters more accurately and tellingly than as Trump supporters. One is that they are invisible victims of the social interventionism and control driven by identity politics that the US government has progressively imposed in the post-Reagan era. Most clearly, they are not members of the “protected” groups that benefit from affirmative action which has spread from African-Americans to almost all ethnic minorities, including recent immigrants, plus women (in short a theoretical majority of the US population.)

This identity regime also spread from bureaucratic arrangements across much of employment, academic, and public life to political rhetoric. As Professor John Marini of the Claremont Institute has pointed out, that kind of politics “requires the systematic mobilization of animosity to ensure participation by identifying and magnifying what it is that must be opposed.” And what must be opposed turns out to be the values, loyalties, interests, and even self-regard of the non-protected Americans—even if it takes plain manipulation or reversal of the rules and conventions of “diversity” to do so.

In this campaign, for instance, it would be odd if these voters did not notice the reluctance of Mrs Clinton and other progressive politicians to state plainly that “All Lives Matter,” let alone that “White Lives Matter,” in response to the pressure of the “Black Lives Matter” campaign. For whatever reason BLM has gone quiet in the last few weeks, but its success in getting an implicitly racist argument adopted by half the country is testimony to both the power and bad faith of progressive identity politics.

Still more telling, if also more complicated, is how Trump’s gross personal sins have become a progressive ideological campaign against the male “objectifying of women.” That argument expands a justified attack on the crudely offensive behaviour confessed by Trump into a general indictment of male sexuality. It required a woman, namely Heather Mac Donald in New York’s City Journal, to ask why men might focus on a woman’s sexuality rather than, say, her political opinions:

Surely the ravenous purchase by females of stiletto heels, push-up bras, butt-hugging mini-skirts, plunging necklines, false eyelashes, hair extensions, breast implants, butt implants, lip implants, and mascara, rouge, and lipstick to the tune of billions a year has nothing to do with it. Females would never ever exploit their sexuality to seek attention from men.

In other words sexual objectifying is an unavoidable part of the behaviour of both sexes which a decently organised society holds in check and balances against other aspects of marriage and sexual relationships. Earlier and better names for it ranged from sex appeal to romance.

Our society’s reliance on these rules, however, has been subverted by progressive policies over the years, by the tolerance extended to promiscuity by Hollywood and popular culture, and by bad example—from Trump certainly but also from Bill Clinton who is plausibly accused of the same or worse sins. That helps explain why Mrs Clinton (accused, incidentally, of assisting those sins) has been less prominent in upbraiding Trump than almost any other woman in America.

These culture wars might have gone on indefinitely without seriously obstructing either America’s long-term progressive revolution or Clinton’s likely short-term election victory if not for a major ideological development at home and abroad. Identity politics has crossed the floor. The Trump campaign, Brexit in the UK, and the refugee row in Europe have signalled the rebirth of patriotism and popular democracy against progressive global governance everywhere.

Yoram Hazony in Mosaic has given us the most comprehensive account of this new clash between two visions of national and global order:

For 350 years, Western peoples have lived in a world in which national independence and self-determination were seen as foundational principles . . . Since World War II, however, these intuitions have been gradually attenuated and finally even discredited, especially among academics and intellectuals, media opinion-makers, and business and political elites. Today, many in the West have come to regard an intense personal loyalty to the national state and its right to chart an independent course as something not only unnecessary but morally suspect. They no longer see national loyalties and traditions as necessarily providing a sound basis for determining the laws we live by, for regulating the economy or making decisions about defense and security, for establishing public norms concerning religion or education, or for deciding who gets to live in what part of the world.

Who will decide such questions in the US is the underlying issue in this election. Mrs Clinton is plainly a globalist like President Obama, Donald Trump an opponent—if not the best one. But this election will not decide the issue which of its nature pits most voters against the progressive elites. It’s your politics for the next century.

To get a firm grasp on what is at stake, please turn to our symposium “Civilisation—Does it Have a Future?” It brings together four important talks given at Quadrant’s sixtieth anniversary dinner. And the answer is that civilisation certainly has a future as long as you help Quadrant to defend it.

Comments [12]

  1. ianl says:

    As usual, I object to the use of the word “elite” to describe the morally vain leftoids. Using it is playing their language game and then you have already lost. I agree with the comment that there appears to be a strong streak of arrogant stupidity in what is self-described as “progressivism”. (Why is everything some made-up “ism” with these dills ? More control of any debate with exclusionary language, obviously).

    Identity politics simply reverses the Renaissance … and means to. And it will win; appeals to emotion are way more effective than objective analysis, which of itself is very difficult to do for most of the population.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      I understand your objection but the word is no longer as described in the Webster. It is now seen as a pejorative, and correctly so when used in the context seen in other than MSM.

      • ianl says:

        > … seen in other than MSM

        And there is the rub, Rob. A very large majority of the population only ever see it in that context and so by constant osmosis, come to believe it as unchallengeable truth.

        The key issue is always the propaganda value. One can tell this from the enormous amount of shrill, obfuscatory noise the leftoids make if an opinion challenging the PC one looks like gaining sensible MSM attention. This is why the self-defined climate scientists refuse to debate in public; such a tactic avoids the embarrassment of a Brexit-like moment in full public view.

    • Get used to it Ian. The ‘Orwellisation’ of our language has been underway for almost a century now. In true ‘Alice In Wonderland’ fashion words can mean anything now, and do. Meaning and context are now irrelevant. Gay, liberal, marriage, equality, justice and even words like ‘freedom’ have been taken over. I remember while at Uni [almost half a century ago] the ‘radical left’ had signs/placards saying ‘liberate us from our freedom’, and they meant it.

    • Russell Potter says:

      > As usual, I object to the use of the word “elite” to describe the morally vain leftoids …

      O{Perghaps “elitists”, might be more appropriate, rather than “elites”?

    • Brett_McS says:

      That’s why Thomas Sowell calls them “the self-anointed elite”, which has an appropriately clerical tone for what is The Order of the Vain Leftoid.

  2. Solo says:

    It will be very interesting to see how the Weiner email investigation plays out. At this stage, there may be links between the Clinton foundation and a child trafficking ring with some big name individuals, including billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The most recent emails are being released in the next couple of days I believe. Summary of current investigation is here as follows: http://pastebin.com/36Q0yKSM

    Hopefully the spotlight keeps on searching after the election, regardless of the result. Very bad way to get off the first term of a US President

  3. Ian MacDougall says:

    DONALD TRUMP has announced (surprise, surprise!) that he will only accept the result of the US Presidential election if he wins. This is the sort of thing one expects from a toddler in some preschool who is inclined to tantrum-throwing. IMHO he should get the standard preschool response for such cases: he should be stood in the Naughty Corner until he is prepared to accept the rules of the place.

  4. en passant says:

    Ian McD,
    Welcome back! We need your insights into electoral fraud, the dead votes, the multiple votes, the cheating lying and crimes of YOUR preferred candidate.

    ‘Hellarity for President’ is the sort of note that the American Nation for the world to find after they have committed suicide.

    The world needs to be saved from American Democracy and Democrats. Unfortunately, they cannot call the ‘UN Suicide Helpline’ as they are their to help you commit national suicide, not to stop you from doing it.

    Your views are why the world will be saved by (the unbelievable) tyrannical and the realists such as Russia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Angola(!) and a few more who will hold out for a while after the collapse of Europe, the USA, the M.E. and Indonesia to radicalism and pathological politicians

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      ‘en passant’ (or whatever your real name is):
      Well typed! – considering all the froth which must now be all over your keyboard.

      BUT as it happens, I cannot think of a single US political development more likely to galvanise international opposition to the US, from China, Russia, the Islamic World (peace be upon it); Mexico, Patagonia and everywhere else, than a Trump victory.
      Interesting times.

  5. Ian MacDougall says:

    A good take on it from the (choke! caaargh! splutter! hawk! spit!*) ABC.

    WARNING: Visiting the ABC website has been known to cause meltdowns in both conservatives and computers, eyephones etc owned and operated by them.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-07/donald-trump-and-the-uncivil-war/8002650

  6. Have to admire the gent who bothered to expend shoe leather and tire tread on finding what we Deplorables were really concerned about. I’m in a demo that should have voted for Clinton (woman, post-grad, upper income, instinctive urbanite, socially tolerant), but there’s not enough money on the planet to make me want her to lead this nation. The Progs won’t go without their typically bloody scorched earth warfare against people that don’t look and think like them, but I think we’re up to the fight. Makes me think of Col. Abrams remark about the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, “Poor bastards have us surrounded again.”