Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and lessons from the Whig Party

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on October 20, 2016

This is my fourth posting to this blog in a loosely organized series in which I address change and its sometimes anomies, and the unrest that it can engender – as that has arisen going into our soon to arrive November, 2016 United States elections.

I began this progression of admittedly partisan thought and discussion with a posting on how political discourse has broken down in the United States (see Part 1.) And to bring that out of the abstract, I note how many and even most of us have come to be cocooned in ideologically like-minded bubbles where we are never even exposed to anything in the way of dissenting opinion. For a current reference on that, as of this writing, see Bruce Bartlett’s New York Times op-ed piece: It’s Not Too Late to Fix Fox News. Similar points could just as easily and accurately be made regarding the liberal/progressive media with their version of epistemic closure, and their ideologically isolated audiences too (e.g. MSNBC and their often heavily editorialized news coverage.) Fox News viewers rarely follow MSNBC news coverage too, and vice versa.

Then after writing and posting that, and to round out an opening discussion as to how and why we are facing a veritable “perfect storm” in political discord in this presidential election year, I discussed how and why so many of us in the United Stated have come to see themselves as left out of the American Dream of promise and opportunity, and as being marginalized from being so left out (see Part 2 and Part 3 of this.)

I completed and uploaded all three of those postings and they went live to this blog, before the start of the Republican and Democratic Party National Conventions as held in July, 2016. But the issues and challenges that I wrote of then, all still apply. Donald Trump did win his state by state nomination contests and he was officially selected as the Republican Party presidential candidate, and with Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. And Hillary Clinton won her Party’s nomination to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and with Tim Kaine as her running mate. And the race to November and the presidential election has proceeded from there.

Most of Trump’s supporters appear to be backing him primarily if not exclusively because they see him as an outsider who is both willing and eager to break away from any current business as usual, as perpetuated in American politics and American governance, and by both mainstream political parties. They see essentially the entire current system as broken. And even if they do not agree with Trump on everything, and even if they see him as being significantly flawed as a leader and as a candidate for office and even as a person, they back him because they would support anyone who would seriously challenge the more insider-politician pattern of candidate selection and election and follow-through in office that has betrayed them.

Many of Clinton’s supporters actually approve of her, at least in general. But a significant percentage of those who would likely vote for her would primarily do so as a vote against her main opponent and his overtly bigoted and dysfunctional demagoguery. Even if they would prefer to see themselves as more liberal and progressive than conservative and thus more aligned with Democratic Party platforms and politics, their primary drives are still more of a vote against than of a vote for.

Hillary Clinton has positive qualities and qualifications but she is a deeply challenged and even deeply flawed candidate who has been dogged by scandal. Some of that, such as the attacks on her credibility based on how the 2012 diplomatic compound attack in Benghazi, Libya occurred and how it was initially responded to, are more Republican created and partisan in nature than anything else. There are serious questions that those events raised and that can still be learned from, but that was not and is not the Republican Party intent as it uses this incident and its unfolding as a tool for their own political gain.

But there are a few significant challenges to Clinton’s credibility that cannot so easily be dismissed, such as her use of personal email accounts on unvetted private servers when conducting business as a US Secretary of State. She has positive and laudable qualities and capabilities. But she also presents herself as a weaker candidate going into this election than should be the case, given the political baggage that her use of personal email and related issues have created for her. And the irony in that, to continue with this email example, is that if Clinton had used official email and other electronic communications channels as offered through official US State Department email servers – they would have been less secure than the less predictable outside channels that she did use and certainly given the way that China, Russia and others have systematically sought to hack into US government computer networks and their server computer systems as high value targets.

I began this discussion by examining both main US political parties and their top of ticket 2016 candidates. But I have offered that perhaps more balanced, Republican and Democratic Party oriented start to this posting, mostly to put my primary topic of discussion for it into perspective. And that topic is one of how the Republican Party has in effect set itself on course towards the edge of a cliff, and what that progression of decisions and actions holds import for, going forward.

I actually began writing about the issues that I would primarily address here, in the first three postings of this series. The conservative right, as traditionally represented and controlled by the Republican Party is broken. Rank and file members of the Party see themselves as having been deceived and used and taken advantage of – with the people they have elected and certainly to national office looking out for the interest of their wealthiest friends and allies and financial supporters, while arguably abandoning average citizens and their interests and needs. And that sense of betrayal certainly holds for many who have strived to reach a middle class for saved wealth and for opportunity in this country, to see that dream become more a mirage than an attainable reality. Their middle class and sought-after middle class goals have increasingly come under fundamental threat. And many of those who are currently members of that group: many rank and file Republican Party backing members who are middle class now, have come to fear a slip back from that toward poverty – and at the hand of their Republican Party leadership.

I have already made note in this blog of a massively scaled wealth redistribution towards the wealthiest 1% and even the wealthiest 1% of that top 1%, that has been made possible by conservative and ultraconservative Congressional Republican tax law enactments, among other measures. And I have noted how conservative and ultraconservative Judicial action has in effect moved the United States from pursuing a one person, one vote ideal to following more of a one dollar, one vote ideal – through the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision and similar action (see my series: Open Markets, Captive Markets and the Assumptions of Supply and Demand Dynamics, as can be found at Macroeconomics and Business 2, postings 230 and loosely following.) What I am writing of here is a deeply divisive “epistemic closure”: a seemingly impervious bubble partitioning that has come to separate the Republican Party’s top elected officials, and in large numbers from both the American public as a whole, and even from their own party’s rank and file members.

And this breakdown in ability to communicate meaningfully on political issues, goals, priorities or needs and even with their own political party’s elected officials has led to what at least should have been predictable consequences. Democrats and many if not most Independents (people not affiliated with any specific political party) in the United States simply expect more extreme partisan decisions and actions from elected Republican officials. The Republican rank and file and in large numbers, simply feel betrayed. So they have defied the powers that be in what is nominally their own party and have actively selected and backed a candidate who would break it and certainly as it has become.

Donald Trump hates the Republican Party as it now exists and as its elected officials and backers and pundits have made it. He hates a great many people and a great many things and his ongoing rhetoric is proof of that: inflammatory rhetoric which he has not toned down at all since winning the nomination. I suspect and with reason, that the only person who Trump actually likes or respects, and the only one who he would look out for or actively support on anything is himself. But he is the Republican Party’s true maverick and outsider who will break away from the past and change everything – EVERYTHING!

Trump has captured what has come to be called the alt-right: an until now more marginalized ideologically extremist community with all of its hatred of immigration and immigrants, and a great deal more that Trump panders to. And he has in effect mainstreamed them as the voice of his followers and of the rank and file Republican Party. And he has made that vision and voice into the at least currently dominating voice and vision in his party – and even as its more traditional leaders and backers cringe, and even when they feel compelled to support him as they do so. While some have spoken out against Trump, many more have refused to do so, and have chosen to at most remain silent this election cycle (e.g. see At Least 110 Republican Leaders Won’t Vote for Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point. for the refutation side of that). And this brings me to the title of this posting and why I have explicitly chosen to write it here and now: to go live a few short weeks before the election itself.

• What are the long-term consequences of all of this and for the Republican Party and conservatism and for the United States as a whole?

Trump’s rise to political power in the Republican Party and in American politics compels this question. Here, short-term means up to the November elections and long-term emerges when you think past this one election cycle and out across the coming years.

I cited two political parties in the title of this posting: the Republican and the Whig Parties. And I admit up-front that I see both need and irony in doing so. The Whig Party was one of the two leading national political parties in the United States from 1833 when it was first founded until 1854 when it was formally dissolved as an organized entity. And two of its presidential candidates were elected to that office: William Henry Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848. The Republican Party was founded as a consequence of a political gathering that took place in March 1854 on a farm outside of Ripon, Wisconsin. And many of its founding members were in fact disaffected former Whigs. The Republican Party in the United States that we know now, had its birth in the ashes of a failed Whig Party and can in many respects be seen as having emerged as a response to that Party’s decline into irrelevance and organizational failure – and as its child.

• Why did the Whig Party fail and disappear as an organized force and voice? Its political leadership drifted into an ideological extremism that created a chasm between themselves and both the country as a whole and their own Party’s rank and file members. They made themselves and their party irrelevant and they paid a price that their hubris in effect compelled.

The Republican Party of today has been drifting into national irrelevance in this country as whole and for years now, and even as its elected officials and certainly in the US Congress have wielded tremendous levels of power and control. But even there, their tax policies and economic policies as a whole, and a great deal more that they have fought for have drifted further and further from addressing real American needs or concerns as faced by average Americans in their day to day lives. And they have drifted out of relevance for their own party members while doing so. And now the Party of Lincoln has reached a dysfunctional tipping point where it has in effect been hijacked by a Donald Trump who is content to gut it if not fully intent on doing so, and with an active majority of enraged registered Republicans supporting that.

What will come of this? I fully expect to come back to that question in a next follow-up posting: a fifth addition to this loosely organized series. I will only add for now that the outcomes of the November, 2016 US elections will carry long-term significance and have long-term consequences and both at the top of the ticket and for the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections that I have been discussing here, and further down the ticket too where national Congressional, state and local elections are also at stake.

I find myself actually writing this posting on September 19, 2016, to go live on October 20. I might add in another related posting to this progression before the elections but will at the very least do so after them. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1. And I also offer this and related material at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

An addendum note and update of October 19, 2016:
I reread this posting the afternoon before it is to go live to the blog, and hours before the third and last presidential candidate debate is to take place as a televised event, this evening. And my primary point that I would raise here is that nothing fundamental has changed, in what has happened or in what I would write about here.

• I noted as a matter of reflection as to the irony of Clinton’s email scandal that if she had simply followed protocol and left all of her official emails on a government owned and maintained server while Secretary of State, they might have been more vulnerable to hacking then they were, where they were, given foreign government led efforts to hack into US government computer and network systems. More revelations have come out regarding Russian hacking into both US government and US Democratic Party computer systems. And Russian hacking of Democratic Party email servers has led to large scale public leaks through WikiLeaks – which Donald Trump has lauded, as he fawns over Russia’s Vladimir Putin as his idea of a great leader. This simply represents more of the same.
• I wrote of some 110 leading Republicans breaking away from the Trump bandwagon. News articles have continued to raise that number and it is now over 160, even as Party faithful have openly threatened defection from their ranks. That is also just a more of the same cosmetic change at most.
• And Donald Trump’s poll ratings as offered through sites such as 538.com have remained low, even as he proclaims he is a winner and that if he loses, that will be because the election has been rigged. There is very little new in that news story either.
• The one point that I would raise here as notable is how US congressional election prospects have begun really slipping for Republican candidates and both for the Senate, and for the House – which careful districting (gerrymandering) would be expected to have made safer for incumbents and their party. The Democrats are now quite likely to take control of the US Senate, and at the very worst for them are likely to leave the Republicans with just a slim hold on the House too. Trump really is burning down the Republican Party around himself. No, that probably isn’t anything new either, this election year.

November 8, late evening Eastern Time we will all know.

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