I’m afraid I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the astonishing rise of Donald Trump. Like just about everyone else – including, who knows, even Trump himself – I didn’t take him seriously. I figured he wasn’t in it to win, just to get publicity. Now it looks like he’s stuck making a serious run for it. He’s the favorite for the GOP nomination and, after that, who knows?
On the other hand, I can’t say that, however his political viability scares me, I’m deeply surprised that something like this is happening. Some years ago, as some of you may know, David Hays and I developed a descriptive account of cultural evolution , which allows for radical discontinuities in historical development. It was clear to us in our original discussions back in the late 1970s and after, and it is clear to me now, that we are living in an era of discontinuity.
The ascendency of Donald Trump can certainly be read as a symptom of a deep discontinuity. But if that is so, then how can we predict the future? If the discontinuity is THAT deep, then the past and immediate present give us little or know basis on which to make predictions. We’re at sea on a strange planet.
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In an editorial from yesterday (March 1, 2016), The New York Times suggests that the Republicans brought this on themselves:
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday, after months of such games. He sounded naïvely unaware of the darker elements within the Republican Party, present for decades, and now holding sway: “This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln.”
The Republican Party is taking a big step toward becoming the party of Trump. Those who could challenge Mr. Trump — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — are not only to the right of Mr. Trump on many issues, but are embracing the same game of exclusion, bigotry and character assassination. That Mr. Rubio would make double entendres about the size of Mr. Trump’s hands and talk about Mr. Trump wetting his pants shows how much his influence has permeated this race and how willingly his rivals are copying his tactics.
Does this mean that the Republicans are now helpless to stop Trump from getting the nomination?
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Over at Crooked Timber John Quiggin has an interesting post entitled The three party system. Here’s the short version:
There are three major political forces in contemporary politics in developed countries: tribalism, neoliberalism and leftism (defined in more detail below). Until recently, the party system involved competition between different versions of neoliberalism. Since the Global Financial Crisis, neoliberals have remained in power almost everywhere, but can no longer command the electoral support needed to marginalise both tribalists and leftists at the same time. So, we are seeing the emergence of a three-party system, which is inherently unstable because of the Condorcet problem and for other reasons.
Here’s a bit more:
Roughly speaking, until the Global Financial Crisis, neoliberalism was the only force that mattered. The typical setup in English-speaking countries was alternation between two neoliberal parties corresponding to the two versions of neoliberalism I mentioned above. The hard neoliberal (in the US, the Republicans) relied on the votes of (white Christian) tribalists and made symbolic gestures in their direction, but largely ignored them, particularly if their interests came into conflict with those of big business. The soft neoliberals (in the US, the New Democrats) relied on the willingness of leftists to support them as “the lesser evil”.
The GFC discredited neoliberalism in both its forms, but still left neoliberals holding all the positions of power in the political and economic system. But the erosion of support for both hard and soft neoliberalism has made the maintenance of the neoliberal duopoly more difficult. On the right, Trump has shown that the tribalist vote can be mobilised more successfully if it is unmoored from the Wall Street agenda of orthodox rightwing Republicans like Cruz. On the left, Sanders has not done quite so well, but has certainly forced Hillary Clinton to distance herself from her Wall Street backers.
The discussion currently has 168 comments and I recommend it to you.
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In a post today on the core differences between the two parties, Tyler Cowen observes:
The Republican Party is held together by the core premise that the status of some traditionally important groups be supported and indeed extended. That would include “white male producers,” but not only. You could add soldiers, Christians (many but not all kinds), married mothers, gun owners, and other groups to that list.
(The success of Trump by the way is that he appeals to that revaluation of values directly, and bypasses or revises or ignores a lot of the associated policy positions. That is why the Republican Party finds it so hard to counter him and also fears it will lose its privileged position, were Trump to win. The older Republican policy positions haven’t delivered much to people for quite some time.)
Democrats are a looser coalition of interest groups. They agree less on exactly which groups should rise in status, or why, but they share a skepticism about the Republican program for status allocation, leading many Democrats to dislike the Republicans themselves and to feel superior to them. In any case, that underlying diversity does mean fewer litmus tests and potentially a much broader political base, as we observe in higher turnout Presidential elections, which Democrats are more likely to win these days. That also means more room for intellectual flexibility, although in some historical eras this operates as a negative.
Right off the bat, this distinction between the two parties puts most blacks, single women, and most but not all Hispanics in the Democratic camp. Not-yet-assimilated immigrants have a hard time going Republican, even though a lot of high-achieving Asians might seem like natural conservatives. No matter how much Republicans talk about broadening their message, the core point is still “we want to raise the status of groups which you don’t belong to!” That’s a tough sell, and furthermore the Republicans can fall all too readily into the roles of being oppressors, or at least talking like oppressors.
Yesterday he had a post in which he suggested that a President Trump would use the vast regulatory powers of the executive to pursue vendettas against his foes.
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 My working paper, Redefining the Coming Singularity – It’s not what you think, may be the best general introduction to that theory. For a broad discussion of political systems, see Chapter 5: Politics, Cognition, and Personality, in David Hays, The Evolution of Technology Through Four Cognitive Ranks. Finally, there’s lots of material on New Savanna under the tag, cultural rank.