The Left may be about to claim a Pyrrhic victory

Note: This is the third in a series of blog postings emanating from work originally compiled for a Daily Bullshit entry. That text has now been moved here.

With an increasingly likely early departure of Donald Trump from the presidency, the Left may be about to fool itself in a few ways.

I’m certainly not disparaging the sense that Trump is leaving early. His ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, “believe[s] that at some point over the next period of time, he’s going to have to figure out a way to resign,” and apparently Schwartz tweeted that he “[w]ould be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner.”[1] While Schwartz seemingly attributes this to pressure from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,[2] I think he was more right when he tweeted that “[t]he circle is closing at blinding speed.”[3]

That circle is larger than Schwartz appears to recognize. (My emphasis here reflects that microblog posts on Twitter are limited to 140 characters, making it a terrible medium for communicating nuanced or complex information.) But it’s also, probably, smaller than the Left will claim when Trump leaves, if in fact he does so.

That circle certainly includes the Mueller investigation, which could lead to impeachment, but it also includes questions about Trump’s fitness, that might lead to a twenty-fifth amendment ouster,[4] and frankly, the possibility of a “Deep State” assassination as intelligence agencies defend their work against a president who suffers from diarrhea of the mouth.[5] I’m not so far above conspiratorial thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me that a law professor’s article in Foreign Affairs denying the existence of a “Deep State” in the U.S.[6] might signify that elements within the “Deep State” may be preparing to do something that they would rather not claim credit for.

What the Left can claim credit for are its protests against the Trump presidency. Trump is now under the sort of pressure last seen (from authoritarian populists) early in Barack Obama’s presidency and I think we can safely say that Trump lacks Obama’s mental stability. But Republicans are in control of all three branches of government and they very much appear to be accepting Trump as a means to their ‘agenda’; should they conclude he is an impediment, I think they will effectively oust him.[7] The Left will then be able to claim indirect credit, but this will be a functionalist conservative and neoconservative victory over authoritarian populists.

And that is, in fact, a huge problem.

One of the reasons that authoritarian populists were motivated to turn out for Trump in the 2016 elections was that functionalist conservatives have been exploiting authoritarian populist fears to win and keep office but then failing to deliver on their promises to those authoritarian populists.[8] Authoritarian populists will surely be enraged should they see functionalist conservatives conspiring to once again cheat them of their agenda and their voice. And they will be joined by paleoconservatives, including the sort who created the ruckus in Charlottesville.[9]

As Jeffrey Toobin correctly observed of paleoconservatives, “[s]uch people do not comprise the bulk of the President’s base.”[10] The bulk of Trump’s base is authoritarian populist, but on race, the two tendencies have a lot in common, so much so, that on unauthorized migration, I was unable to find a significant difference in their views in my dissertation.[11] The risk I foresee is that many authoritarian populists may embrace paleoconservatism and many more may join right-wing militias. That will likely change the character of right-wing militias but it will not disarm them and it could vastly enlarge them. These are already very dangerous groups; they may be about to become very much more so.

The Left would be wiser to drop some of its self-righteousness and to ask why some whites fear being displaced in a more heterogeneous society. The fear itself is borne out by “deaths of despair”—suicide and drug (or alcohol) abuse—and the still-low labor market participation rate,[12] but this is clearly something the Left no longer cares to talk about other than as a club to bash the Right. And that, largely, we don’t ask this question is another manifestation of something I’m noticing throughout the political spectrum: Folks believe they already know all they need to know about the other side, whichever side that might be. There is no curiosity, no inquiry, only demonization.

This is not a recipe for reconciliation.

So here’s my message for just about everyone, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum: It’s easy to condemn the other side, particularly when they seem so incorrigibly hateful. But as you hate them—admit it, many of you do—they’re hating you and the question now is whether you can share a country with them and whether they can share a country with you. When your only answer to their arguments is demonization, what you’re really advocating is the very thing they fear—their erasure.

We haven’t been doing so well at not erasing folks. We’re already doing it with the poor, the unemployed, and the homeless—all folks who are poorly placed to scream back. It isn’t just Trump who’s the bully here.

Now maybe the wounds are so deep that we really can’t reach out toward the other side. Certainly I’ve felt that the differences are irreconcilable.[13] But what’s happening now is abusive. And if that is our only prospect for how we treat each other, then this is another reason the relationship needs to end.

  1. [1]Tony Schwartz, quoted in CNN, “Tony Schwartz: Trump will resign,” WPIX, August 18, 2017,
  2. [2]CNN, “Tony Schwartz: Trump will resign,” WPIX, August 18, 2017,
  3. [3]Tony Schwartz, quoted in CNN, “Tony Schwartz: Trump will resign,” WPIX, August 18, 2017,
  4. [4]Andrew Prokop, “The 25th Amendment, explained: how a president can be declared unfit to serve,” Vox, May 17, 2017,
  5. [5]For example, Bryan Bender, “Ex-intelligence leaders: ‘Nightmare’ if Trump leaked to Russia,” Politico, May 15, 2017,; Yochi Dreazen, “Donald Trump is a serious threat to American national security,” Vox, May 15, 2017,; Judah Ari Gross, “Former Israeli spymasters rip into Trump, say Israel must reassess intel sharing,” Times of Israel, May 17, 2017,; Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee, “Israel Provided Intelligence Trump Shared With Russia, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2017,; Annie Karni, “Trump’s intelligence gaffe creates tension with Israel,” Politico, May 16, 2017,; Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador,” Washington Post, May 15, 2017,
  6. [6]Jon D. Michaels, “Trump and the ‘Deep State,’” Foreign Affairs, August 15, 2017,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Forecasting Donald Trump’s demise,” Not Housebroken, August 19, 2017,
  8. [8]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  9. [9]Joe Heim, “Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death,” Washington Post, August 14, 2017,
  10. [10]Jeffrey Toobin, “Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Charlottesville,” New Yorker, August 15, 2017,
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  12. [12]Julia Belluz, “Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts,” Vox, March 23, 2017,; Anne Case and Angus Deaton, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century” [draft], Brookings Institute, March 23, 2017,; Andrew J. Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?” New York Times, February 22, 2016,; Jefferson Cowie, “The Great White Nope: Poor, Working Class, and Left Behind in America,” review of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2016,; Carol Graham, Sergio Pinto, and John Juneau, II, “The geography of desperation in America,” Brookings Institute, July 24, 2017,; Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015,; Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, “Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites,” New York Times, January 16, 2016,; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015,; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015,; Nigel Morris, “Spike in suicide rate in Europe and US linked to financial crisis,” Independent, September 18, 2013,; Tara Parker-Pope, “Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.,” New York Times, May 2, 2013,; Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Crisis to Suicide: How Many Have to Die Before We Kill the False Religion of Austerity?” Alternet, April 16, 2012,; Alana Semuels, “Is Economic Despair What’s Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?” CityLab, March 23, 2017,; Yves Smith [Susan Webber], “Austerity Kills: Economic Distress Seen as Culprit in Sharp Rise in Suicide Rate Among Middle Aged,” Naked Capitalism, March 1, 2015,; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013,; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013,;Josh Zumbrun, “The Economic Roots of the Climbing Death Rate for Middle-Aged Whites,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015,; Noelle Sullivan, “Neoliberalism Is Killing Us: Economic Stress as a Driver of Global Depression and Suicide,” Truthout, April 2, 2017,
  13. [13]David Benfell, “A divorce for the United States,” Not Housebroken, December 14, 2009,; David Benfell, “‘Progress’ and the Union,” Not Housebroken, December 24, 2012,

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