Ezra Klein is worried that the clock is ticking and that political power could slip through the fingers of the Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Something worse than Trumpism could return.
“President Biden takes office with a ticking clock. The Democrats’ margin in the House and Senate couldn’t be thinner, and midterms typically raze the governing party. That gives Democrats two years to govern. Two years to prove that the American political system can work. Two years to show Trumpism was an experiment that need not be repeated.
This is the responsibility the Democratic majority must bear: If they fail or falter, they will open the door for Trumpism or something like it to return, and there is every reason to believe it will be far worse next time. To stop it, Democrats need to reimagine their role. They cannot merely defend the political system. They must rebuild it.
“This is a fight not just for the future of the Democratic Party or good policy,” Senator Bernie Sanders told me. “It is literally a fight to restore faith in small-d democratic government.”
Among the many tributaries flowing into Trumpism, one in particular has gone dangerously overlooked. In their book “Presidents, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” the political scientists William Howell and Terry Moe write that “populists don’t just feed on socioeconomic discontent. They feed on ineffective government — and their great appeal is that they claim to replace it with a government that is effective through their own autocratic power.”
As David Shor has pointed out, the Democrats only have themselves to blame for their disadvantage in the Senate and Electoral College. They are incapable of moderating on polarizing cultural war issues which has made their brand and coalition toxic in rural areas which are overrepresented in the Senate. The Republicans have exactly the opposite problem. The True Cons in Congress were incapable of moderating on economics which hurts them with the poor and working class in urban areas.
“While one faction of the party leaned into the Silicon Valley language of innovation and disruption—think Jeb Bush modeling Apple products and name-checking Mark Zuckerberg—another saw Big Tech as a perfect boogeyman. It fit comfortably into the white supremacy that Trump and Bannon were pushing. These ultrapowerful corporations were undermining the country with their transnational politics and immigrant workforces, their offshoring of profits, and their cosmetically liberal values. The Trump campaign was about defining who was and wasn’t American; opposing these companies became a form of “nationalism.” …
Heading into the fall, you could see Hawley’s game plan clearly, even if you didn’t buy that it would work. A Trump win would cement the GOP’s realignment, setting up a loyalist like himself for big things. (Trump even put him on his Supreme Court short list.) Or maybe Trump would lose, and Hawley could burnish his brand as a New Kind of Republican by attacking Biden from both the right (woke socialist!) and the left (corporate shill!). Sure, he’d be saddled with the toxic legacy of Trump, but who in his party wouldn’t? Last fall, Simon & Schuster handed him a book deal for a manifesto he’d titled The Tyranny of Big Tech. Everyone from the Atlantic to the Intercept heralded him as the possible future of “Trumpism after Trump.”
In December, Hawley pulled off what was until then his greatest stunt—joining Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont, in demanding a new round of $1,200 checks for all Americans. They stood outside the Senate chamber in matching blue masks. Axios called them “the stimulus’ strangest Senate bedfellows.” It was good theater—Washington loves strange bedfellows almost as much as it loves conference keynotes—and smarter politics. It turns out Americans overwhelmingly support free money. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Trump backed the effort. When people talk about the potency of “economic nationalism” in the hands of someone more competent, this is the sweet spot. After Mitch McConnell killed the idea, Democrats running on the promise of even bigger checks won two Senate races in Georgia. …”
Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Josh Hawley believe any of this or not, they have both been stumbling toward the right political formula: wealth redistribution, trust busting and/or regulation on economics and anti-wokeness, anti-modernism and immigration restriction in culture. Take the best parts of Trumpism and blend it with the best parts of Longism and find someone who can run for president on that message who isn’t incompetent and who has an ideological frame of mind. Joe Biden can run for reelection on the DILE agenda of illegal alien amnesty and transgender bathrooms.
We need a 75% Huey Long to a 25% Donald Trump. I weigh the profile of the correct dimensions toward Long because he wasn’t a demagogue. He genuinely believed in his program and he had the skills to pack the Louisiana state legislature, crush the oligarchy and ram through his agenda. Donald Trump only had a knack for marketing himself and sizing up an underserved constituency. He got all of his good ideas which became “Trumpism” from Pat Buchanan who was twenty years ahead of his time. Buchananism, however, is insufficient to respond to what 50 years of neoliberalism has done to create economic stratification. Neoliberal Joe will be a tough opponent to beat in 2024 but it can be done.
Note: When the DILEs accuse our populist candidate of systematic racism and white supremacy, the proper response is “I just want to give every American citizen free money. It is easier to send checks than to convene the Salem Witch Trials and burn witches.” This is also not breaking with Trumpism since he backed $2,000 checks late in the game. It is improving upon the formula. Ordinary people loved Huey Long and Trump because they both attacked their enemies like the media in the harshest terms.