Social origins of the Politically Absurd.

The 2016 US presidential election is a an existential crisis of American society politically manifest as a theatre of the absurd. The story line revolves around a clash of visions over what constitutes the preferred America. On one side is what could be called the “old” vision. The vision is “old” not only because it harks to so-called traditional values rooted in nostalgic reimagining of the 1950s, but because those who most ardently adhere to it are lower educated whites aged 45 and over who are or were employed in blue collar, service sector and small business occupations.

This vision privileges the dominance of white heterosexual christian male values. It is both laissez faire and  economically nationalist in orientation, patriarchal and socially insular in perspective, wary of “outsiders,” and believes in a natural order where rules are made to be obeyed without question. It prizes conformity and stability and respect for authority.

On the other side is a “new” vision. This vision is “new” because it is multiracial, multicultural, heteroreligious and secular, plurisexual, post-feminist, economically internationalist, global in orientation and polyarchical when it comes to power distribution, legitimate authority and social hierarchy.

In reality the two visions bleed into each other in specific instances to form a hybrid social orientation in many groups that is not as dichotomous or binary as it otherwise might be. I say “bleed” rather than “blend” into each other because the overlap and cross-fertilisation between the two social perspectives is not uniform or universally applied: Mexican American IT specialists may enjoy rap as much as Norteno music while dutifully practicing their Catholic faith and adhering to its moral codes, while middle aged white professionals  can find identity in the mores and practices of non-traditional cultures and religions while engaging in post-modern leisure pursuits.

The battle between the old and new perspectives began in the 2008 presidential election when a representative of the “new” vision, Barak Obama, took on an old white man, John McCain, for the highest office in the land. That continued in 2012 when Obama confronted another old white man, Mitt Romney, in his re-election bid. It continues today in the form of another “new” candidate, Hillary Clinton, facing yet another old white man, Donald Trump. Clinton may not be the archetypical “new” candidate as described above, but the mere fact that she is female is a break from the traditional mould.

For his part, Trump represents a grotesque caricature of the traditional alpha male, and in the absurdity of his candidacy lies the last gasps of a dying culture. In his sociopathic narcissism, his sexually predatory behaviour, his racism, bigotry and xenophobia, his abject greed, his pathological lying, his thin-skinned obsession with revenge, his insensitivity to others, his ignorance of basic economic, political, military and diplomatic facts, and in his adolescent resort to crude insults and derision as a weapon of last resort, Trump is the antithesis of the self-made, strong and independent straight-talking man on horseback. And yet, because he acts as if he were and the GOP and conservative media enabled his deception, those who embrace the “old” vision see in him a saviour. But they are wrong, for what he is to them and the culture that they cling to is an angel of death.

That culture is dying because over 45 year old lower educated whites have the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism and opiod addiction in the US, so they are quite literally leaving the mortal coil at higher rates than everyone else. That is not a demographic on which to base a presidential campaign and yet Trump and the GOP have dog whistled, incited, pandered and courted it as these people will live forever or at least until the mythical past can become the future once again.

The “old” vision will lose this election but it will not be its death rattle. Its adherents will fight against the king tide of social change with  the fervour of a drowning man, and some of them will become violent. The obstructionists in the GOP will do everything in their power to undermine the Clinton presidency, and they will front another “old” visionary in the 2020 presidential campaign. But regardless of what they do and how much they resist, the hard fact is that demographic, socio-economic and cultural change are irresistible forces that work against them.

They are doomed and within a generation they will be gone.

Note: I write this the day before the election simply to give my brief read on the broader context that explains why Clinton will win. Depending on how poorly the GOP does in the House and Senate races, the bloodletting within the Republican camp could be epic. That will be fun to watch.

26 thoughts on “Social origins of the Politically Absurd.

  1. Comey is the canary as to whether the world would have been better off with Trump. If Clinton sacks him she proves herself unfit for office. If not the emails go away and she proves she respects the rule of law.

    Hard to disagree with the sentiments above but Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio are young strong conservatives for 2020. Just being conservative does not make you “old” unless you are being ageist.

  2. cogent piece, an overlay is needed to make more sense of what this Presidential contest is really about

    a significant part of the internet has been rendered nearly unreadable for weeks as peak Trump nears, the Orange Groper it seems has tapped into one of the richest cultural aquifers of our times–“what a person believes is as valid and more important than what is verifiable or factual”

    the bleed, cross over, class/cultural creep or whatever it could be called also draws attention to the dawn of if not a workless society, then one with very little full time paid work–who are the consumers of corporate products going to be? where do nation states fit in other than proxies for corporate power etc.?

    for people of a left persuasion, the still unclaimed prize of US politics in the short term remains breaking the two party hold and undemocratic forms such as super delegates and arcane state rules on eligibility etc., well done Bernie and supporters for trying though!

  3. Phil: I meant “old” as in “old” or “traditional” values as described above. Anyone can hold them but in the US only some do.

    TM: I decided not to get into the structural dislocations caused in the US by the march of globalised capitalism, but instead focus on values or social perspective. The fact is that globalisation is irreversible and either Trump is a moron or he knows it and simply lies. The idea that a president can force US companies back to the homeland AND pay US workers higher wages for jobs done cheaply elsewhere is wrong on both counts. But economic realism does not seem to be part of the Trump narrative.

  4. Actually, they already have lost – the GOP relies on Gerrymanders and Jim Crow to cling control of the Congress. Once they lose congress, the Republicans will vanish as a serious political force. As i understand it, redistricting next occurs in 2020. I don’t know enough of the mechanism of this process to know if the GOP will be able to retain or even extend their current Gerryamnder? Or will the Democrats be more awake in 2020?

  5. Sanctuary 2020 is a presidential election year which 2010 was not. Dem turnout is much higher then, but working against them will be 12 years of incumbency, plus the already gerrymandered districts. The GOP advantage will thus still be large, hard to say if Dems can overcome it.

  6. Pablo loved this post. So refreshing to read such a clear and broad analysis. Barbara.

  7. And you said there weren’t enough stupid Americans for Trump to win the presidency. Time to redraw the stupidity map you’ve been using.

  8. Well, you are right about that.

    I misread this election but the diagnosis still holds: A Trump vision of how things should run is simply not compatible with global reality. He will be either impeached or one term in duration, but his damage to the US will be a generation or more to fix. Meanwhile, the rest of the world need to decide whether to hedge or to take advantage of the opportunity. Russia clearly will.

  9. what you are Pablo, and have been for a long time is an arrogant condescending, puffed up little 39th parallel idiot. Next year Pablo NZ First 20%. Time to reconsider your psychopathology. Suck here Pablo.

  10. Thans Paul, you are as gracious as always. Beware that what Trump reaps is what he sows, and you are a microcosmic reflection of that fact.

  11. The Republicans won the senate, congress, presidency. They can now select the next judge for the supreme court. Who’s suppose to impeach him.

    The military?

  12. Pingback: MUST READ: The seductiveness of Trumpism « The Daily Blog

  13. @Pablo I misread this election
    You aren’t the only one. It would be good to get your thoughts on the origins of that misreading – another post perhaps.

  14. AB:
    Once I stop crying in my beer I will think about doing so.

    One thing that I just saw was a graph that shows that the popular presidential vote in 2016 was down by nearly 8 million votes compared to 2012 and 10 million compared to 2008. Although the GOP vote remained fairly consistent at around the 60 million mark, Obama received 70 million votes in 2008 and 66 million in 2012, whereas Clinton came in at just under 60 million (although still ahead of Trump) in 2016. What that means is that indeed, both of this year’s candidates were disliked to a great degree and that Trump’s mandate is not as strong as he might think. The test will come when he tries to get the GOP controlled Congress to do or not do something significant, as his attacks on the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell may cause frictions that will be hard to smooth over in the name of party unity. We shall see.

  15. I very rarely attack people. Pablo richly deserved the comments, and I consider those comments accurate. especially the way he treated EA publicly. .
    The world has been saved from a sick, warlike evil woman. Already th peace feelers aRAole
    You peope are incapable of any acceptance of other peoples values. Tough. There is a lot more to come from the deplorables.
    Next year voters will smash the blue rinse Nanny Government to pieces with a NZ First vote above 15%.
    We have many people ready to go. We will sewe Joghn Key’s arrogant race based privilege Government in troubly by November. We wil force Ley to resign early 2018.
    Watch and you will see how th deplorables do it. ay

  16. The thing doesn’t let me edit the typing, and ended on me But you know, we are just old, simple, stupid, racist, xenophobic, uneducated, all those words Pablo likes to dish out.
    I meant to say above tht already the peace feelers are out from Putin and the world will be saved from losing 100,000 men in Iran and Ukraine and maybe WW3. But its terrible that awful man Trump wanted sex with a woman. Oh God, can you imagine that.

  17. EA was chased away by a savage attack from Pablo. Had Pablo pulled that stunt on me he nay not be able to stand up very well now, without feeling dizzy and falling over again,

  18. Paul:

    I know that you are a depressed drunk so have cut you slack over the years, but you really should not try to play the keyboard tough guy. You comments have gotten increasingly incoherent recently so do yourself a favour and take a break from KP for a while. Heck, you can go over to EA’s new blog and commiserate with him!

  19. You are a nasty little bastard Pablo. You condescend and are snide on most occasions. I am an alcoholic, who has not had a drink in over 12 months and am fighting fit, and a poster boy for various organisations. You would not stand a chance against me or our political initiative any time or any where. It is debatable whether you or Trotter are the most deranged . I say you., Trotter is funny you are obsessed, absurd and malignant

  20. Paul:

    I suggest that you focus on your rehab, stay off the meds, and do not bother coming around here for the foreseeable future. After all, everything I write pisses you off and then you start trolling in your comments, so it does both of us a disservice to have you continue. I do wish you well in getting sober.

  21. I am sober Pablo. It is you who are sick and can not see the changing world in front of your eyes. I have never seen you write a sentence that is not pompous and condescending. Even now. You,unlike me, have learned nothing from your past failures.

  22. Pablo, you’ll be fine once you grow up and learn how life works. Right now your though patterns display the arrogance of youth and inexperience and a whole lot of University generated left wing garbage. I’ll pop back some time in a few years to see how your getting on. Just like the kids, just let them go out into the world and start paying their own bills. The University of life will give you a real education. Just one more point. Most junkies are under 35. That is the ones who are still alive. Good luck.

  23. Pablo writes “On one side is what could be called the “old” vision… those who most ardently adhere to it are lower educated whites aged 45 and over who are or were employed in blue collar, service sector and small business occupations This vision privileges the dominance of white heterosexual christian male values. It .. believes in a natural order where rules are made to be obeyed without question. ..On the other side is a “new” vision. This vision is … multiracial, multicultural, heteroreligious and secular, plurisexual, post-feminist, economically internationalist, global in orientation and polyarchical when it comes to power distribution, legitimate authority and social hierarchy.”

    That raises the question of how “new” this vision really is. It dates not from 2008, but well back into the twentieth century, and arguably much earlier. The later British empire was “multiracial, multicultural and heteroreligious”. The Soviet empire was “multi-racial, economically internationalist, secular”, feminist and “global in orientation”. “Polyarchical”, on the other hand, is a concept which requires further definition. Societies with strong religious establishments, trade unions, associations of capital, militias and so on which have the potential to oppose the civil authority could be classed as polyarchical, in which case western society would have been more polyarchical in the mid-twentieth century than in the early twenty-first century. So none of the elements of the new vision are “new” although the particular mix of those elements in the present era may be unique.

    Secondly, one has to question how fair (or useful) it is to label the “old” vision as “white heterosexual christian male”. John Brown, John Newton, William Wilberforce, Octavius Hadfield and Thomas Grace are all examples of “white heterosexual christian males” who upheld the rights of “people of colour” and the female gender and forcefully challenged established authority.

    The political challenges facing the liberal left at this point, and the reason why it failed to predict or even allow for the possibility of a Trump victory, arises from its mis-identification of “left” with “morally liberal” and “right” with “moral conservative”. This despite the fact that iconic images of the morally conservative Che Guevara still adorn the studies and living rooms of leftwing radicals, and feminists still acknowledge the pioneering efforts of the Womens Christian Temperance Association in bringing universal adult suffrage.

    Trump is portrayed as a conservative, when the evidence suggests that he is no less of a liberal than Clinton. He made his fortune from gambling casinos. He has been married three times and divorced twice. He has had at least one extra-marital affair. These are not the normal attributes of a true conservative. In fact, there are no truly conservative politicians, just as there are no truly working class politicians. Christian, conservative values include humility which is hardly compatible with the demands of a successful political career, and as soon as one is elected to office one is raised out of the ranks of the working class to be commissioned as a member of the affluent, professional, managerial class. There are of course politicians who being neither conservative nor working class themselves, nevertheless see advantage in pitching an appeal to conservatives and the working class, and Donald Trump is one such. Trump did it pretty well whereas Clinton hardly tried. If she had been willing and able to step outside of her natural constituency among the educated, liberal professional elite she would be president-elect today.

    Both Trump and Clinton are liberal by personality and inclination, and both would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to attract the support of genuine moral conservatives. Trump’s real appeal was to working class liberals, rather than working class conservatives. The academic analysis, when it comes out, will show that a large body of moral conservatives, from both the working and professional classes, simply chose not to vote. Moral conservatives are people who make decisions based on principles and who are sober in their judgements on account of their sense of moral obligation. Liberals, on the other hand, are pragmatists who tend to get angry on account of their rights. By this loose definition Trump is very much a liberal, and the people who voted for him would also have been liberal.

    The last, and most important, question is whether we have anything to fear from Trump. Going on the conservative principle that we should fear God and no man, I would say not. However we have to recognise the dangers presented by politicians who are liberal, and therefore pragmatic, rather than relatively conservative and therefore more predictable. Governor George Grey was a classic liberal, indeed a radical liberal, a friend to the working class and a friend to Maori who spoke Maori and took a close interest in Maori culture. Yet it was George Grey who called in British and Australian regiments to invade the Waikato in 1863. He did so for purely pragmatic reasons, against the admonitions of “white heterosexual christian male” conservatives like Hadfield and Grace. Here in Rotorua a “white heterosexual christian male” conservative, Mike McVicker of Hobson’s Pledge infamy, told the truth (as he knew it) about the AKL-304 scandal, while a liberal, secular, female Mayor attempted to conceal the affair as an act of poltiical pragmatism. In the same way, Trump is a danger to the world, not because he is right-wing (which he may be), or conservative (which he is not) but because he is a liberal and a pragmatist. Ultimately he will yield to power rather than stand on principle.

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