The Grand Old Party as the modern day American Worker’s Party? Donald Trump is at it again, singlehandedly seeking to redefine what it means to be a Republican (or, in my humble view, even what it means to have common sense. But, that is a matter for another day). In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Greene, the Donald has promised an ostensibly weary labor base a GOP that is “a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.” And with that, Mr. Trump has conjured up glorious images of a new Republican Party that is a combination of the Progressive GOP of Teddy Roosevelt’s salad says, and the socialist splendor of Eugene Debs’ labor movement.
Of course, Mr. Trump is not Teddy Roosevelt, nor is he Debs (that title more closely belongs to Bernie Sanders, another paragon of confoundedness). He might be described as something in the middle of those two, if he was amenable to being described at all; he is, in fact, a center-left Democrat who has, in the absurdity only possible in the silly season known as Presidential election cycles, somehow managed to capture the Republican nomination. Trump’s positions are notoriously difficult to pin down, and has been thoroughly documented, Trump’s followers care little or less about his inconsistencies . As flitty as his position profile may seem to be at first glance, his invocation of populist workers’ parties was not made without purpose.
Historically, it has been the province of workers’ parties to advocate for vigorous minimum wage increases, hefty investment in public works and infrastructure projects, generous increases in social welfare payments, and protectionism for native industry. While Trump is all over the map with regards to a hike in the minimum wage, any observer knows that he is quite in favor of expanding the social safety net, investing in infrastructure, and, of course, protectionism in all its wall building glory. He also claims to have a plan to improve the military while also slashing the Defense budget; I, for one, would like to see a copy of this plan, but I digress.
The thing that observers, political scientists, and the Republican party itself can’t seem to reconcile is this; most of Trump’s supporters still self-identify as conservative, small-government individuals who want less spending. And Trump is still, who he is; an elitist with a track record of exploiting the very workers for whom he claims to be repurposing the Republican Party. Yet, he excoriates his elite brethren for doing the very same thing. There has to be a way to explain the disconnect between who the man is and the words that his followers eat up – despite knowing who he is.
Trumps’s Grand Old Workers’ Party – Weaver, Rhetoric and the Consequence of Ideas
Richard M. Weaver, for the uninitiated, was a professor of rhetoric in the English department of the University of Chicago during the mid-20th century. He was also an accomplished political philosopher, intellectual historian, and a darling of the conservative movement. For those who are familiar with Dr. Weaver, I will urge that you overlook his (sometimes not so) subtle racism, as shown by his near-obsession with the antebellum South. Let us instead concentrate on his ideas regarding truth, rhetoric and the ideas that drive society and nations.
According to Weaver, in forming societies, Man, by benefit of being able to reason, should retain and make full use of society’s institutional memory. In other words, by all rights, we should learn from our history. However, he finds history to be a bewildering cycle of repeated errors. His reasoning for this is rather simple; men don’t follow their own knowledge of histories. They are instead prone to make decisions by adhering to the prevalent rhetoric of the day. Even more simply put, society is led by the loudest voices. In breaking down works such as Plato’s Phaedrus, Weaver comes to define rhetoric as the words used to persuade a body of people to hold a certain idea. Truthful rhetoric generates an informed appetite for that which is good in society. Misleading rhetoric, often based on collectivist notions of egalitarianism, plays to the baser instincts of the public. In Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver put forth the view that such demagogues were the greatest threat to liberty and the right to own private property.
Much of this playing to the crowd can be historically seen in Debs’ appeals to the common laborer, and can contemporarily be seen in the words of Trump and his Democratic counterpart, Bernie Sanders. Yet, Sanders is simply a gadfly, giving frontrunner Hillary Clinton all kinds of indigestion, but he has not managed to wrest the nomination away from her. Trump, brash, boastful, crude and often quite insulting, has crafted a message, however disjointed, that appeals to the frustrations of a Republican base that, in actuality, despises the things he stands for. He is the loudest voice, and if current polls are any indication, the people are listening, as he’s running a dead heat with insider Clinton.
I realize that the title of this post isn’t going to increase my likability factor, but this all reminds me of Terry Goodkind and his Sword of Truth Series. Most individual volumes in the series introduced what is known as a Wizard’s Rule, homilies meant to guide the very dangerous use of magic. They were also meant to guide the actions of the leading class. The first rule served as the basis for all the rules that followed.
I don’t know how this election cycle will turn out. I do know that public disaffection has grown at a dangerous rate, and the public is in grave danger of falling victim to common demagogues. Stay tuned; this should be quite interesting.
[Pic by Lisette Brodey/Pixabay]
Tarnell is an economist, entrepreneur and social observer. When he is not being a Lucky Libertarian, he is likely plotting to take over the world (and leave you alone) and singing romantic ballads to absolutely no one.