Trump and the Republican ideological disconnect

I don’t know how I missed this Yglesias post when discussing Trump and populism.  It’s not really all that different from the others, but I think it is an especially lucid take on the ideological disconnnect between the Republican base and Republican elites:

Though Trump is anything but a banal person, his rise in the polls has a very banal explanation — he stands for some ideas that are reasonably popular, but that no other well-financed candidate has previously articulated. Donors don’t like these ideas, so candidates normally don’t express them. But this bloc of opinion has existed for a long time and represents a huge swath of the Republican Party rank and file. Trump is the egomaniacal opportunist who’s finally giving voice to those ideas. And much of the American establishment is in deep denial about their real appeal.

As Lee Drutman has written, the Trump combination of far-right views on immigration plus center or left views on Social Security is pretty popular. More than one-fifth of the electorate endorses the Trump view that “immigration should be decreased a lot” while Social Security should not be cut. All mainstream Republican Party figures, by contrast, hold views in the right-hand column of Drutman’s chart [click to Vox to see the chart]— opinions that collectively secure the endorsement of less than 10 percent of the electorate.

With Trump holding a popular opinion while about a dozen other Republicans all crowd into an incredibly unpopular niche, the striking thing is that Trump is punching well belowhis potential weight. Perhaps all the apparently clownish, seemingly off-putting stuff that he does is, in fact, counterproductive and he would do even better if he combined his ideas with a more mainstream presentation.

But these generally unpopular views are popular with the kind of people who finance the Republican Party. There are a lot of rich people out there who want to see their taxes cut, and most of them understand that in the long term only paring back America’s big retirement programs will make those tax cuts possible. Those donors often favorrelatively high levels of immigration and are a little put off by excessively hardcore social conservatives, but they demand orthodoxy on economic policy — even when it makes it harder to win elections…

Both Huckabee and Santorum fit into a broadly similar ideological niche to Trump’s, one that deemphasized the GOP donor base’s tax-cutting and entitlement-slashing priorities in favor of the cultural politics of older, white, working-class Americans. Compared with Trump, both Huckabee and Santorum had a big advantage — they were real Republican Party politicians with practical campaign and governance experience.

But they also had a huge disadvantage — their ideas were anathema to the party’s donor base, and they were not, personally, billionaires. Trump, conveniently, is a billionaire, so his lack of fundraising ability isn’t a big problem…

Trump is a bit of a freak show, so there is an impulse to say that he is succeeding because he is a freak show, a one-off who provides an amazing story during the doldrums of summer with no wider significance for American politics.

The truth is the opposite. Trump is succeeding because he is articulating views that are widely held among American voters but normally suppressed in the political system due to the power of the donor class. The voting bloc that he’s tapping into has been tapped previously, and will be tapped again in the future — possibly in more effective ways by more conventional politicians.

As for me, absolutely part of the fun of Trump is that he is a bit of a freak show.  That he can somehow defy political gravity by slamming Veterans.  That he can be beloved by many on the Christian right despite literally not being able to name a favorite bible verse.  But what really makes this fascinating as a political scientist is exactly the points laid out by Yglesias.  So, the political scientists in me (and, okay, the Democrat, too), just say… Go, Donald, go!

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Whether you call autism a “disease” or not, we should want less of it

Just finished listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Steve Silberman about his new book on the history of (our understanding of) autism.  Fascinating stuff.  And really upsetting to realize how much a single mis-guided psychiatrist, Leo Kanner, did so much to make my older brother’s life (and my mom’s, in blaming her for his autism) so much worse.  Here’s some from Dylan Matthews in Vox:

What society thought of as the natural course of autism was actually a very skewed view of what happened to autistic people when they were put in institutions. For decades, the recommended course of treatment for autism was institutionalization.

Parents were routinely told they should put their child in an institution, quietly remove their photographs from the family albums, never speak of them again, and enlist in decades-long courses of psychoanalysis to think about why they were motivated to wound the developing psyches of their children.

Not only that, he literally blamed the mothers for being emotionally distant “refrigerator mothers.”  Imagine hearing that as a mom (as my own mother did).

Why has autism exploded in diagnosis?  Primarily because Kanner’s rigid, short-sighted definition, was finally overthrown in the 1970’s by one that actually reflected reality.

Anyway, Matthews’ piece has a really interesting interview with Silberman (read it, you should), but I just can’t let this beginning part go:

Most people think of autism as a disease, a major impediment of which an increasing number of children are “victims.” But over the past two decades, a growing number of adults on the autism spectrum, myself included, have rejected this frame and called for non-autistic “neurotypicals” to respect and accommodate “neurodiversity.” We believe that autism is a natural and in many ways desirable variation in how people think, not a great evil to be stamped out.

To neurotypical people, this may seem like a shocking reversal. But as science journalist Steve Silberman writes in his new book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, the man who discovered autism, Austrian psychiatrist Hans Asperger, conceived of it similarly, as a way of thinking that brings blessings as well as hardships

I don’t know that we need to “stamp out” autism, but there would be a lot more happier people in this world (those with autism and very much their families) if we worked to remediate it in all but mild cases.   Because of Alex, I’ve known a lot of  of kids with autism.  Sure, some kids seem to get along okay, but just cannot stop talking about Thomas the Train or some particular video game, but lots of kids are quite impaired in their daily functioning due to their autism.  And whatever “desirable variations” in thinking that may be there are little compensation for the sensory overload,  anxiety, and other difficulties that so often come with autism.  For some people who are less impaired, that’s “who they are” and their identity and they can function reasonably well in the world– all well and good.  Nobody’s trying to stamp you out. But there’s lots of people with autism where it creates a major impairment in the ability to function in society and to enjoy life.  I’m absolutely not willing to accept that as “neurodiversity” but rather something we as a society (and myself as a parent) should be working to overcome to whatever degree we can through various therapies, medications, etc.

Anyway, really looking forward to reading Silberman’s book, but just had to get that out there.

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