Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowan on Trumpism as a Cyclical Phenomenon

The New York Times has a video (above) of Trump's crowds. They are crazies, to use a term of art. Crazies, says Brad DeLong, have always been part of our political culture. They have always hovered around the 20 percent mark of the American population.  In that sense the Trump phenomenon is nothing new.  The problem is that the crazies, by and large are concentrated in the Republican party, so that they make up 40% of the GOP. And because they are highly motivated, they make up 60% of the GOP primary electorate--hence Trump.

DeLong lays out the argument in an interview with David Beckworth on Macro Musings, speaking in fluent paragraphs as few can.

Here's DeLong on the connection between Trump and the crazies in the NYT video above (starting at 20:30):
The way Tyler Cowan  puts it: it was always the case that 20% of America was crazy. But it used to be that 20% was divided between the two political parties. There were Western and Northern types of people who were fairly crazy, and who were ensconced in the Republican Party because they feared immigrants and the immigrant Democratic machines of the cities, and crime, and so forth. And there were people on the Southern side, but they were not in the Republican party, they were in the Democratic party because Lincoln had freed the slaves and they weren't going to forget that. 
And so you had the elements of Trumpism. 
The elements of Trumpism were always there, but they were marginalized because they were split between the two great coalitions of American politics: the right of center and the mostly left of center coalition. Or, if you want to put it another way, as Truman's secretary of state Dean Acheson did, the party of enterprise and the party of those who feared that enterprise is not going to give them their fair share.... 
And then we have this great partisan realignment, starting in 1964 when Goldwater decides that there is a political opportunity to throw overboard the Republican party's historic commitment to the African American population. And now we have everyone sorted so that the Trumpists are still 20% of of America, but  they are 40% of the Republican party; and because they are highly energized, they are 60% of the Republican primary electorate. 
That's Tyler's view, and I think there is a very strong case that that's a correct view.
That's a big problem and it's a serious problem. Not just for the Republican party, but for America as a whole. In some ways it reflects the problem of America and of the Democratic party back in the 1850's when the Southern slave power was a minority in the country as a whole, and was a minority even in the South, but because they were energized and activist, and concentrated in the Democratic party, effectively the Southern slave power elite controlled the Democratic party and they were able to win more than their fair share of national elections.
But it is not a big change in terms of the underlying economic interests and views of the people, or even of the underlying sociological interests and view of the American people. It's just a concentration at a weak point of our political system. And I think that's by and large likely to be correct.  
Overall, if it weren't for the small detail of the Civil War, I'd say this is an optimistic take. But that small detail should scare the hell out of us.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

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