Someday, our long national nightmare will be over. Someday, the press won’t breathlessly cover every Trump tweet as if it were a new papal catechism. Someday, when non-Trump events happen (say, an earthquake, a sports championship) the media won’t go to Donald Trump first for a reaction.
That day won’t be soon. It won’t even be in December. Losing the Presidential election – as Trump certainly must do – will hardly slake the thirsts of reporters, hardly break the fever of arriving at the press office, getting coffee and asking “what did Trump say today?” I expect the spell to take a little longer to wear off, as it did with the media’s mid-00s obsession with Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Britney Spears. Maybe mid-2017, maybe later.
(There is only one prize Trump deserves to win over Clinton: Time’s 2016 Person of the Year. If the criteria was truly “newsworthiness,” you have to give it to the person who has led the most news cycles. But after winning the Presidency, Time will give Hillary that one too. This will be a rare case of The Donald’s justified sour grapes.)
However, right now, in smoke-filled think-tanks funded by conservative ideologues, they are crafting the post-Trump narratives to explain, in hindsight, why Trump lost in 2016. These narratives are crucial to these particular conservative Republicans’ chances of ever wielding real power again.
The fever-dream idea may yet have some purchase. Most important is to state again and again, on every talk show and opinion page there is, that real conservatism didn’t lose, wasn’t tried. That America really wants 1950s-ish social policies, draconian tax cuts, and “free-market solutions,” but since that wasn’t on the menu, Republicans lost. Second most important is to say that Trump’s loss proves that Americans don’t really want populism – don’t want trade renegotiations, don’t want less corporate welfare, don’t want the 1% to pay more in taxes, don’t want corrupt money out of politics.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the last couple of years, you know I have a little problem with that.
I’ve been following this election fairly closely, and one of the favorite tropes of #nevertrump conservatives is to say that “60% of Republican voters” – or 55% or 65% or whatever, depending on the state primary – “have rejected Donald Trump.” They say this on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and wherever else a studio will mic them up. No anchor/journalist ever challenges them on it. One reason for that is that I don’t work at those places. The #nevertrump-ers’ rhetoric fundamentally misappropriates the word “rejected” or “denied” or “said no to.” If you’re at a Sizzler salad bar and you choose lettuce, it doesn’t always mean you reject/deny/say no to celery. It’s not that simple. You just chose something you liked a little better. That’s not the same as casting Adam and Eve out of Eden.
I go through this every year with the Oscars. Three months ago, Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance surprised some when he won Best Supporting Actor. But was Sylvester Stallone really rejected? Spurned? Denied? Said no to? Not really. He was passed over, perhaps. Even more accurately, a plurality favored Rylance slightly more than Stallone. You reject your parents. You reject a lover. When you’re choosing between six different types of shoes, you’re not rejecting Nikes, you’re just not selecting them.
When Trump loses in the fall, watch out for conservatives saying that his policies were “rejected,” “denied,” “proven unpopular,” or the like. These conservatives’ ongoing power relies on you believing that. But it won’t be entirely true. This is what’s more true: people chose amongst Kang and Kodos again, during a year in which Kang was obviously massively better qualified than Kodos. It won’t prove that America is turning left or that populism isn’t favored or doesn’t work, even though that’s exactly how it will be spun.
The viability of the two-party duopoly will be another severely contested aspect of the post-Trump narratives. Here, those of us opposed to that duopoly have slight advantages: some conservatives will see their best route to power not through the GOP, but a new (or altered) third party with fewer Trump voters. Another advantage will be that Trump will have spent the previous six months running against both parties. Expect to hear Trump and his lieutenants often say, “for the last 24 years…” as though all of America’s bipartisan-caused problems began the moment Hillary Clinton’s husband took office. (They didn’t.) Now, of course Trump will still lose, but only after six months of the two major parties getting coterminously insulted in a manner that no major-party candidate has really ever attempted. Even after Trump’s loss, some of that spaghetti sauce will still be sticking to the walls.
However, these advantages will be countered by a mostly leftist Democratic Party, and Fourth Estate, that will have every reason to interpret the November landslide as validation for all of its policies and for continuing most of the status quo. The leftist elite media loves the duopoly, and sees the Trump mishegoss as evidence that Americans are suffering and unheard and marginalized, not that they’re against the two-party system per se. They either think we weren’t watching the Patriot Act and Iraq war and 2008 bailouts and government shutdowns, or they think that we, like them, blame all that solely on Republicans.
After a contest between the two least liked Presidential candidates in history, you might think that a third option would be obvious, the way that eating six months of nothing but McDonald’s and Burger King would make it obvious that you might want to try a third restaurant. You might think that, but Hillary Clinton’s many supporters in the media – including pretty much every columnist at the New York Times – have incentive to make sure you don’t see it that way. Without once facing up to their own anti-third-party bias that relegates other options to the sidelines, they will, before the election and afterward, perpetuate Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric hook, line, and sinker: she’s all that stands between us and Trumpocalypse Now, the Democratic Party is the only “realistic” option, Trump will get/got 40% of the general, the country is still polarized along this-or-that lines.
Anti-duopoly writers like me will say that Americans are sick of elite inertia and 1%-oriented-solutions, sick of the litany of mistakes, sick of wage stagnation under Dems and Repubs, and that a populist party could win if it were headed by someone more budget-conscious and less extreme than Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. (How about Sheryl Sandberg?)
As Margo Channing almost said: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy year.