Is Trump an exception or a new paradigm?

We could argue that new media and its omnipresence have produced a new celebrity-rules condition. People don’t necessarily believe that politicians are ineffectual, they’re just bored by them. Why not make politics more exciting? No one can tell the difference between real policy ideas and absurd demagoguery anyway. Does history tell us anything? We have gone this way in the past – three times:

  • Andrew Jackson was not a politician- he was a former general who had a little bit of crazy in him. He shut down the US central bank and produced a 12-year recession. The country moved on quickly and went straight back to “normal “ cowardly politicians.
  • In 1904 the country (re-)elected a charismatic iconoclast (TR) who had become a great public celebrity. He spoke to huge crowds and produced policy that both liberals and conservatives could (and can) champion. After he left we saw a list of dullards – Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, and Hoover.
  • In 1964 the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater – an iconoclast from the libertarian wing of the party. Was it a breakthrough for right-wing populism? Hardly, but at least they sort of stuck to the theme by later picking an actor but they also chose Nixon and GHW Bush – yawn.

None of these temporary excursions represented a significant change in voter preference. Everyone likes a change now and then but the majority of candidate offerings seem to mean-revert, back to a selection of Senators and ex-governors. Such men are rarely exciting or unconventional. Even though there are more ways today to enter the fray, there are fewer reasons to do so. The stalemate in Washington means you won’t get anything done unless you throw in your lot with one party or the other, in which case you are no different from the other mainstream choices. Oprah would be owned by the Democrats just like Mark Cuban would be controlled by Mitch McConnel et al.

We are left to ask from a policy point of view- would a Mike Pence administration be any different than the current one? Can Trump get substantive immigration and trade reform through Congress? If the answer is no then there will be little reason to champion another rogue candidate. It will be evident (again) that parties rule so you might as well go along with one of the mainstream dullards. Most Americans see the Trump choice as a disaster and that will set back any argument to choose another celebrity.

Even if he weren’t, history implies he is probably just a one-off.

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