Trump supporters
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Josh Marshall admits that he isn’t really writing anything new or original. It’s more of a recap of previous pieces that covered well-trodden ground. It’s worth reading though because Josh does a very nice job with it.

What I want to do here is mainly to open the floor to debate. Josh makes two good points that seem unassailable on their own but are in conflict when taken together. Here’s the first point (the emphasis is mine):

Last spring I said the Trump phenomenon was a product of what I termed ‘nonsense debt‘. Republicans had spent years pumping their voters up on increasingly extreme and nonsensical claims and promises. This worked very well for winning elections. But it had also built up a debt that eventually had to be repaid. Concretely, they were making claims and promises that were either factually ridiculous, politically unviable or unacceptable to a broad swath of the voting public. Eventually, you get elected and need to produce. By definition that’s never really possible: both because the claims and promises are nonsensical and unviable but also because a politics based on reclamation, revenge, and impulse is almost impossible to satisfy through normal legislative politics.

A lot of what Trump in 2016 did was hijack an opening created by this build up of nonsense debt.

Here’s his second point:

A mix of partisan polarization, the built-in electoral advantages enjoyed by rural America, hyper-efficient gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic voters in urban enclaves all give Republicans and the Trump base power significantly greater than its numbers. In the House and the Senate, Democrats can easily get more votes and remain in the minority. A GOP nominee can lose the popular vote and become President. It’s happened twice in the last five elections. So while I expect 2018 and 2020 will go quite badly for Trump and the Republicans, it is not at all impossible that they will get a minority of votes and retain all power.

That is disastrous for Democrats and the country. But it doesn’t change the essential dynamic of early 21st century conservatism, an infinite loop of inflammatory and engaging promises, claims and demands which are mostly entirely unrealizable, creating a permanent cycle of establishmentism and grassroots’ betrayal which continues spinning forward even as the players in each category change.

Maybe this is a problem of mixed metaphors, but we can’t have both an infinite loop and a build up to some culmination where the debt needs to be repaid. We’re either getting somewhere or we’re not. We could be getting somewhere worse, of course, but all of these things can’t be simultaneously true.

Are we in a fairly closed system where structural advantages keep us locked in a state in which the Republicans can defy every normal law of political accountability, or are we watching an actual come-to-Jesus reckoning on all the past excesses and sins of the conservative movement?

How you answer that question may tell us more about your general disposition towards life (e.g., optimistic vs. fatalistic) than do anything to establish the truth of the matter, but you should at least try to figure out how you feel, and why.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at