“And they understand,” he continued, “that they’re working two and three jobs just to get by, a lot of them can’t own anything and they understand seeing Mom and Dad forced into retirement or forced out of their job, now they’re working at Hardee’s or McDonald’s to make ends meet so they can retire in poverty. People understand that. They see that.”
Those awful words are a fairly accurate account of the situation faced by a vast part of the population in America, a population that was brought up expecting to enjoy life in what it is often told is the richest country in the world. It is not really the fault of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton that things have unfolded in such a lousy way for these people. As everyone knows, it is the Republicans that ushered the world into the neoliberal age; that cut the taxes of the rich with a kind of religious conviction; that did so much to unleash Wall Street and deregulate everything else; that declared eternal war on the welfare state…
From one perspective, Trump’s rise has merely marked the evolution of Republican populism. It has always been a form of entertainment, and Trump is a captivating entertainer. Traditional Republican leaders, however, regard Trump as a pariah, thanks to his market-offending stands on trade, social security and bank regulation. These leaders have abandoned him in droves, while he has promised to remake the Republicans into a “workers’ party.”
But what has also made Trumpism possible is the simultaneous evolution of the Democrats, the traditional workers’ party, over the period I have been describing. They went from being the party of Decatur to the party of Martha’s Vineyard and they did so at roughly the same time that the Republicans were sharpening their deadly image of the “liberal elite”.