The results of the 2016 election came as a shock to almost everyone. Then, for people like me, shock turned to resignation, and then as the years rolled on into a deeper confusion: Why are the Republicans not regarding this as an accident, as a big mistake? The “craziness” is not merely being normalized, it is being regarded as inevitable rather than improbable. What’s really going on? 40% of the electorate simply cannot be dismissed as crazy.
We know what happened, but Why? If it’s not a freak accident, then what were it’s causes? This turning point in American history was, in short, an authentic expression, a culmination of two decades of change taking place right before our eyes. It is not uni-dimensional — it is not only or simply about a con man rising to power and authoritarianism. 2016 was a “perfect storm” of many forces seeking to overturn the status quo and wreck “the establishment”.
Political Power Surge
I read Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized” and he explained a lot. Here’s a small piece of that book:
Paul Weyrich, founder of The Moral Majority, who died in 2008 :
Racial Animosity and Right Wing Media
Conservative media starting with Rush Limbaugh and fulminating in Glenn Beck fanned the flames of racial hatreds and the fear of big government. See the video:
Cultural Shifts from Television
From the Bulwark Podcast
Over Being Scorned by Elites
Sarah Palin was the early prototype of populist anger and resentment and the urge to “throw them out!” See the video below.
Also Robert Reich former U.S. secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration notes:
Sarah Palin understood that many felt the game was rigged against them. They were angry; they felt they were being left behind; that there was a kind of ruling or leadership class, mostly well-educated and coastal, that had contempt for average working people. For these Americans, the median wage has gone almost nowhere since the late ’70s, and they have not seen any gain in their own economic lives, though the national economy is 2-3 times bigger than it was… People aren’t stupid. The game is rigged.
Inequality and the Rise of the “Forgotten America” (PBS)
Differences on the Issues
The country is deeply split on a range of specific issues. These were observed in a key survey conducted in 2017. The study uncovered two dimensions on which the parties differed:
- An economic dimension (which combines views on the social safety net, trade, inequality, and active government)
- A social/identity dimension (which combines the moral issues index plus views toward black people, immigrants, and Muslims).