The continued success of Donald Trump has led to many liberals becoming increasingly smug about their own party. One of the most egregious examples of this was displayed in a recent article on the New Republic that misunderstands the nature of American politics so badly that it merits a direct response.
In the article Jeet Heer claims that a populist like Trump could never be nearly as successful in the Democratic Party as Trump has been in the GOP. Heer’s arguement is that Trump has been successful solely by appealing to racist sentiments within the Republican Party. He argues that Trump is not an upstart but rather an emergence of the racism that he claims has always simmered just below the surface of the GOP’s rhetoric and policy.
Heer’s conflation of populism and racism prevents him from recognizing the potential for a Trump-like movement to sweep through the American left. By attributing the rise of Trump solely to racism, Heer misses the real cause of his success.
It is not hard to recognize the reason why many Americans support Trump and gleefully cheer as he repeatedly confounded the Republican establishment throughout the primary. The reason is that they felt betrayed; partly by President Obama, but mostly by Republican leaders who they believe have not done enough to stop him. They feel betrayed by Mitt Romney for running a campaign that was too centrist and the feel betrayed by a congress they believe has done nothing despite having a Republican majority. Most importantly, they feel betrayed by a political class that they believe looks down on average, working class Americans.
It would be extremely foolish to assume that this sense of betrayal is confined solely to one party. Liberals like Heer would be wise to take the success of Bernie Sanders in their own primary seriously: it is a symbol of growing discontent with the party’s leaders.
However, since Hillary Clinton’s nomination, she has done nothing to reconcile these unhappy voters and much to further alienate them. She recently called Bernie Sanders supporters “baristas” who are “living in their parents’ basement” which shows the same kind of arrogance which drove Trump supporters away for the party establishment and toward Trump. Anger at politicians is a bipartisan phenomenon right now. If liberals like Heer and Clinton are not careful, they will soon see their own version of Donald Trump.