The Once and Future American

The commentariat still affixes Donald Trump’s 2016 rise to the White House with the word “shock.”

After ransacking Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, whipping up an apparent “white lashen route to the White House, Trump continued to “shock” America’s expert class for the next four years.

The 2020 election is no different. President Trump’s appeal to almost half the country, and a record portion of minorities, is implausible to the cognoscenti.

This time, crude explanations are harder to come by. President Trump appealed to Americans of all melanin counts, genders, sexual orientations, religions, political affiliations—the markers of which are supposed to silo us into our respective tribes.

Indeed, down-ballot, the Republican Party’s appeal far outstripped that of the Democratic Party.

Monuments to Creative Destruction

Just 70,000 votes the other way, and a veritable Red Wave would be undeniable to even the most obtuse of observers.

That Trump beat Hillary Clinton is no shock. That President Trump (or his brand of populism) broadened its appeal among minorities, women, and every other group meant to doom the Republican future should be no shock either.

After three decades of American decline and Rust Belt rot, someone—anyone—was bound to point out that globalization hadn’t kept its promises to anyone but its gleeful architects.

Nobody asked Pennsylvania steelworkers if they’d concede their livelihoods for “free” trade. Nobody asked Michigan autoworkers to trade their heavy pay packets for cheaper TVs. Nobody asked Appalachia if Fentanyl soothed its communal and spiritual decay.

From Youngstown, Ohio, to Detroit, Michigan, the husks of dead factories pock the landscape, monuments to neoliberal “creative destruction.”

Until 2015, the Democratic and Republican establishments celebrated this destruction, an “inevitable” course of nature, impervious to Luddite criticisms. Its champions pointed to rising GDP figures, and cheap Chinese imports. In the real world, real wages stagnated while the upper classes ballooned.

In 1985, the average American male worked 30 weeks to pay for the basics of a middle-class life. Now, he needs 53 weeks in a year. For a woman, that rises to 66 weeks.

For the devout, this inequity is proof that neoliberalism hasn’t gone far enough. Since 1980, Republicans have offered little more than: cut taxes for the wealthy, and erode any obstacle, however flimsy, presenting itself before neoliberalism’s perfectionist streak.

Like committed socialists, free-market fundamentalists apply the purity fallacy to every political consideration: any failure is further proof of its validity. Real wages haven’t budged since the 1980s. To fundamentalists, this is because the neoliberal system is not pure enough. The solution? More of what sickens the patient.

Sacrifices to an Angry God

Even President Obama, of hope and change, accepted there was “no magic wand.” Those blue-collar jobs were not coming back to American shores. Globalization was not a choice, but an angry God sustained only by relentless churn and economic sacrifice.

The sacrificed had only themselves to blame. NAFTA’s willful destruction of 56,000 factories and five million jobs was somehow their fault. Their concerns were written off as backward and bitter.

Even when their life expectancies crashed amid drugs, alcohol, suicide—deaths of despair—the “left behind” remained pitiless, not fellow Americans but interchangeable economic units.

Not until J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy did anyone take notice. Not until Donald Trump did anyone try and do something about it.

The commentariat credited Trump’s 2016 win to a meth-mouthed backlash of the pitiful in envy of the “producers.” Hillary Clinton’s post-election coping statements often relayed this fact.

In 2016, Hillary carried 472 counties nationwide to Donald Trump’s 2,584, yet Hillary’s counties encompassed 64 percent of America’s economy. This year, the 477 Biden-voting counties equal 70 percent of the economy. Back in 2000, the divide was more evenly matched, Democratic candidate Al Gore’s 659 counties produced 54 percent of the economy, to the George W. Bush counties’ 46 percent.

A Red Tory Moment

If the 2020 election tells us one thing, Joe Biden’s party of the blue-collar is dissolving into Kamala Harris’s party of the billionaire.

What two years ago I called the “Red Tory Moment” has arrived. Americans might have rejected the Trump Show, but they also rejected the Woke Show.

In down-ballot races in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republicans have made remarkable gains against the narrative of a Democratic blue wave.

Despite outspending Republicans three-to-one, Senate and House Democrats failed utterly to bolster Joe Biden’s mandate beyond that of a ceremonial presidency.

Certainly not the FDR-sized presidency the progressive wing sold its political soul to obtain. To progressives, a Biden landslide would pay reparations for again bilking Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. There is no Biden landslide.

Instead, the most abnormal of election years witnessed seven million more Americans and a record share of minorities back the “white supremacist” President Trump against the insistence of mainstream media, Big Tech, and the ruling class.

Political realignments ebb and flow. In 2017, here in Great Britain, the hapless Theresa May dissolved a 25-point lead in an election she didn’t have to call. If the campaign were just one week longer, Jeremy Corbyn would be prime minister.

Yet, Theresa May started what Boris Johnson finished, picking up a few seats in Labour’s tribal heartlands. Two years later, Boris Johnson’s New Tories ransacked Labour’s red wall, flipping 54 seats in Labour’s deep-red northern heartlands. One of these seats, Leigh in Greater Manchester, abandoned Labour for the first time since 1922.

The New True Center

Like the New Tories, the Republicans are now the party of the true American center—socially conservative, and economically populist.

In gist: the average American thinks American jobs should stay home. That immigrants should be welcomed on merit but are not entitled, and that borders should be respected. He thinks Medicare and Social Security are sacrosanct. He thinks government should mostly leave Americans alone, yet should also level the playing field.

The Americans of the true center reject divisive identity politics, cancel culture, and political correctness. They’re patriotic, and they accept both the imperfections, the outrages, and the great achievements of American history.

As congressional Democrats have learned, most Americans are not interested in melanin-counts, class warfare, grievance-farming, cancel culture, or the victimology indulged by sociology professors. Most women don’t think they’re living in A Handmaid’s Tale because a man on the subway sat with his legs apart.

You would not think Democrats have won the White House. During a three-hour conference call last week, moderate House Democrats attacked the progressive wing.

A distraught Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) told fellow Democrats to never “say socialism ever again,” warning that any further leftward drift and Democrats “will get fucking torn apart.”

House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on the call if “We are going to run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we’re not going to win.”

Progressive high-priestess Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) insisted her Green New Deal was “not a sinker” on Democratic prospects. Yet, it helped sink Kendra Horn in Oklahoma, Xochitl Small Torres in New Mexico, and almost capsized Conor Lamb, in Western Pennsylvania.

The progressive wing’s faith in Joe Biden lasted all of six months.

Biden Will Betray Embittered Progressives

Without the landslide capture of the Senate, there is no Supreme Court packing, no healthcare revolution, no punishing, soak-the-rich class warfare. There’s certainly no Green New Deal, no Biden Plan, and no senators for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

What progressive Democrats got for their primary submission is the same bitter taste they got when the same establishment cheated Bernie Sanders out of the nomination.

The Biden-Sanders Unity Taskforce helped craft the most progressive presidential platform since George McGovern in 1972, yet congressional reality banjos all of that. What progressives have is a ceremonial president with his signature scribbled on every disaster befouling the United States since the 1990s.

They didn’t call him the “Senator for MBNA” for nothing.

From his home state of Delaware, corporate America’s safehouse, Biden served the interests of that tiny state’s giant banking industry. In 1978, he dissolved bankruptcy protections on federal student loans. Vocational students enjoyed the same fate in 1982.

As it happens, Biden’s largest and most reliable campaign donors were MBNA (now Bank of America) employees, and his senate seat sat safe from scrutiny.

Throughout the New Democrat 1990s, Joe Biden’s neoliberal tendencies exceeded lip service. In 2005, The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act condemned those struggling with debts to a modern workhouse.

Rather than grant bankrupts a clean slate, Biden’s work fastened them to his friends in finance.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy grants the bankrupt a clean slate from which they can rebuild their lives. Biden’s work instead subjected them to punitive Chapter 13 provisions, in which lenders take a cut of the bankrupt’s future earnings.

Through the ‘90s and beyond, Biden embodied the neoliberal ethos of the Democratic and Republican Parties. First came NAFTA, then China’s welcome into trade relations, then the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, widely credited with stoking the 2008 financial meltdown.

In 1999, Biden joined 90 senators in junking Glass-Steagall, permitting bankers to gamble with depositors’ cash.

In his eight years, Vice President Biden did nothing to reform NAFTA, correct China’s trade malpractice, or hold to account the bankers who plunged the world into financial meltdown.  

This record just 12 months ago rendered Biden a no-go among primary Democratic voters and the progressive networks pushing for the Bernie-Warren takeover.

Republicans’ New Coalition

In a postmortem this week, progressive groups lamented the Democratic establishment’s coziness with Wall Street and corporate America, warning that Republicans would recapture the House in 2022.

They got something right. The letter went on:

“We need a new generation of leadership grounded in a multiracial, working-class experience and background.”

Yet, it is the Republicans who’ve built that multi-racial working-class coalition with a mix of economic and cultural sanity. The GOP is now home to the working and middle classes, while the Democratic Party is that of Big Tech and billionaires.

What Donald Trump started has over the last four years branched into a network. From national conservative thinkers like Oren Cass and the political presence of Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) common-good capitalism and the wildly popular Tucker Carlson.

Now that movement has four years to build its case in contrast to a Biden presidency hamstrung by both congressional reality, and the progressive wing’s guerrilla warfare.

The teetering Democratic House majority could likely fall in 2022, further laming a promised one-term Biden presidency before its handover to Kamala Harris, a candidate whom barely a quarter of Americans say they would vote for.

A President Biden would be the first to enter office without control of both houses of congress—the first in over three decades. As a rule, the incumbent drains his popularity in office.

Half of Americans might welcome the relative tranquility, yet the other half already has suspicions and doubts over the electoral process, regardless of legal outcomes. America is still the historically riven America it was in October.

And those inclined to and encouraged by the media’s unhinged four-year bunny-boil, may soon have no President Trump onto which they can project their frustrations. Without Trump, the media and Democrats have no Pavlovian bell.

Trump might leave the White House, but Trumpism will return to the White House again and again and again.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

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