October 6, 2016

ROSS DOUTHAT: Will We See A Trumpism Of The Left?

Some kind of celebrity (ahem, Oprah, ahem) might be able to win the Democratic nomination under present circumstances. But they would need to be respectable rather than disreputable, and run a campaign that accepted guardrails and gatekeepers rather than gleefully destroying them. The wrecking-ball left-wing analogues to Trump that pundits have imaginatively toyed with — an Oliver Stone, a Sean Penn — wouldn’t stand a chance.

But what’s true today might not be true forever. The differences between the Democratic Party’s younger, poorer, browner base and its older, whiter, richer and more moderate leadership are a potentially unstable equilibrium. The anger coursing through left-wing protest politics could find a cruder, more nakedly demagogic avatar than Bernie Sanders. A Hillary Clinton administration could supply various betrayals and compromises or foul up in some disastrous way, encouraging a sense that the professional class that dominates liberalism’s upper reaches needs to give way to a revived (and larger) version of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition — a “real American future” analogue to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” appeals.

If Trump has thrived by imitating Europe’s right-wing nationalists, a Trumpism of the left would imitate the left-wing populists of Latin America and Asia — the Chavismo of Alicia Machado’s native Venezuela, or the Trumpian socialism presently being served up by the ranting, trigger-happy president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

This may sound implausible, indeed frankly un-American — but so did the ascent of Trump’s National Front-ish politics, and yet here we are. Cultural and demographic change can ripple into politics slowly, and then all at once. The elite checks on a gonzo left-wing populism are real and powerful, but so are the cultural forces roiling underneath. And the same demographic changes that have made the right more nativist and populist, more European and reactionary, could expose the left to a Latin American temptation if liberal governance ever really hits the rocks.

If and when it does, the Hillary Clinton campaign’s skillful deployment of Alicia Machado may be cast in a somewhat different light. It’s Clinton’s Democratic Party today — managerial, technocratic, polished, a little smug. But Machado’s wilder, messier, “I’m not a saint girl” style might have its own claim on the American left’s future, if the technocrats and managers ever let her kind of Democratic voter down.

And they will.

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