As a liberal on most political matters, I am not delighted that President Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett may be his most durable legacy.
But like the rapidly approaching Election Day, it gives new energy to an old question: After Trump, what happens to Trumpism?
The replacement of 87-year-old liberal giant Ruth Bader Ginsburg with 48-year-old Barrett is expected to bring a 6-3 conservative majority to the court that could endure for at least a couple of generations. Elections, as both political sides are muttering, do have consequences.
Whether he loses this election or not, it’s not too early to contemplate what happens to the maverick movement he put together and rode into the White House.
The term Trumpism, as far as I can tell, rose up as a joke. Trump proudly presented himself as ideology-free, unencumbered by the factions and labels usually offered in conventional parties and political science books.
The crowdsourced Urban Dictionary offers, among other definitions: “A social/political movement based on elements of (a) racism, (b) religious bigotry, (c) demeaning attitudes toward women, (d) attempts to intimidate the press, (e) economic uncertainty, (f) rejection of scientific findings and (g) general expressions of hatred that are reminiscent of German National Socialism of the Hitler era ... ” and “ ... often characterized by completely baseless false statements.”
Well, I’ll concede that those deplorable (yes, I said it) characteristics can be found in some Trumpers – and Trump has been too slow in condemning bigotry and anti-intellectualism. But Democrats can’t get too full of themselves to recognize that bigotry, elitism and narrow-minded stereotyping can be found in their ranks too.
As I have written before, I grew up in Trump country, a Southern Ohio factory town where steel and paper mill jobs helped my family and me pay for my college tuition. Almost all of those jobs have disappeared in ensuing decades.
Most Trump voters I have known – and polling data I have examined – tell me they were won over a lot less by bigotry and sexism than by the sense that he simply was there, speaking to their despair that both major political parties had failed to acknowledge or address.
And the parties have paid attention. For all the talk I hear about “the Democrats moving left” (in much the same way that Republicans lost my family in the 1960s by moving too far right), it is instructive to note how quickly Democratic primary voters bypassed Bernie Sanders and other more progressive contenders for moderate Joe Biden, after Black primary voters in South Carolina rescued him from oblivion.
The lesson: a winning margin of voters seek change, but not radical change.
Which brings me back to Trumpism. The term is misleading because it implies an ideology supposedly held by a man who boldly shuns ideologies. Yet, since recent Gallup polls, among others, still show about 90% approval of Trump among Republicans and about 36% among independents, ambitious Republicans already are jockeying for position to take his place.
That jockeying is taking on a mirror-image reflection of the other party. Democrats have their open socialists and Republicans have QAnon conspiracy believers – such as Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who appears almost certain to be elected to the U.S. House. Trump has called her a “star” and “a real WINNER” in tweets.
But some of those who are seeking the relative sanity of the Grand Old Party are gravitating toward moderates such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or Gov. Larry Hogan, in predominantly Democratic Maryland.
But closer to Trumpian conservatism in these polarized times, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, may be better positioned for the near term.
Maybe. But after watching Trump bluster his way from outsider to victory in the 2016 primaries, I would not be surprised to see another renegade outsider such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity rise from the legions of ambitious stars of right-wing political showbiz.
Politics is full of copycats, it has been said, especially when a seasoned rule-breaker like Trump makes campaigning look easy. But a cautionary note: It’s not that easy. This time the party establishment won’t be as quick to underestimate their rising outsiders’ chances.
– Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.