Saturday, May 6, 2017

The non-ideological Trump presidency

Trump Isn’t a Pragmatist. He Doesn’t Understand Ideology - Jonathan Chait, New York magazine:

May 3, 2017 - "Amid a flurry of strange statements by President Trump, an especially peculiar one he made recently largely passed by unnoticed. Asked about his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, Trump told Bloomberg News, 'Bannon’s more of a libertarian than anything else, if you want to know the truth.'

"That is a bizarre description. While certain libertarian-friendly notions — lower taxes, spending, regulation — serve as baseline-level beliefs shared by every Republican, Bannon might be the least libertarian member of the party of any stature. The ideas that excite Bannon the most are opposition to immigration and trade, on which he is pushing positions diametrically opposed to libertarianism. He has excitedly proposed a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. He has publicly criticized the party for its fealty to libertarianism. ('The Republicans, it’s all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government — which just doesn’t have any depth to it. They’re not living in the real world,' he told Robert Draper recently.) And libertarians generally distrust Bannon in return.

"Trump has no clear motive to miscategorize his chief strategist. Several more attractive, and also more plausible, terms are available: conservative, populist, nationalist. Trump simply does not grasp either Bannon’s thinking or libertarianism.....

"Trump — whose political profile over the decades has vacillated from liberal to conservative to moderate to populist, and supported and opposed abortion rights, higher taxes on the rich, and universal health care — does not care very much about political ideas.... The president also does not know very much about political ideas.... He does not understand which kinds of ideas imply support for which kinds of policies, nor why political figures tend to believe what they do, nor why they agree or disagree with one another. He is capable of forming strongly held beliefs about people in politics, but he does so in entirely personal terms....

"Many Americans share Trump’s lack of ideological sophistication. High-information voters tend to clump at the ends of the political spectrum. They may not have sophisticated beliefs, but their identification with one of the party coalitions is a tool they use to make sense of individual issues. Low-information voters tend to have a weak understanding of what the political parties stand for and how those positions relate to each other. These voters can be roughly categorized as 'centrist' because they don’t line up neatly with one party platform or the other. But, rather than a consistently moderate outlook, they share a mishmash of extreme and frequently uninformed beliefs. Because they don’t understand the philosophical basis for disagreements, they assume the two parties ought to naturally cooperate, and tend to see partisan bickering as a failure and an indication of personal fault by politicians.

"Trump thinks about politics like a low-information voter, which enabled him to speak their language naturally. His stated belief during the campaign that he could expertly craft a series of popular deals — 'it’s going to be so easy' — appealed to low-information voters because it earnestly described the political world as they see it....

"Politics is a strange institution that forces committed professionals who have coherent philosophical beliefs to persuade voters who mostly do not.... Trump accomplishes it in lowbrow style, by literally not understanding the source of the disagreement."

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