If you want Trump-ism to go, you have to reform the Democratic Party

A thought.

One of the reasons that big business hasn’t been able to step in and reverse the electoral train wreck that is the Trump campaign is not that the racist rank and file of the GOP base has so much power that big business is helpless. It is instead that big business feels relatively assured that even if the GOP goes down to defeat, it will have a friend and ally in Hillary Clinton’s administration and neoliberal elites within the Democratic Party.

Clarence Thomas, of all people, gives us a clue that this may be the thinking among these elite sectors of the business class.

In his concurring/dissenting opinion in the 2003 case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, Thomas writes:

The joint opinion [of the majority, authored by Justices Stevens and O’Connor] also places a substantial amount of weight on the fact that “in 1996 and 2000, more than half of the top 50 soft-money donors gave substantial sums to both major national parties,” and suggests that this fact “leav[es] room for no other conclusion but that these donors were seeking influence, or avoiding retaliation, rather than promoting any particular ideology.” Ante, at 38 (emphasis in original). But that is not necessarily the case. The two major parties are not perfect ideological opposites, and supporters or opponents of certain policies or ideas might find substantial overlap between the two parties. If donors feel that both major parties are in general agreement over an issue of importance to them, it is unremarkable that such donors show support for both parties. This commonsense explanation surely belies the joint opinion’s too-hasty conclusion drawn from a relatively innocent fact.

Thomas not only points out that there is “substantial [ideological] overlap between the two parties,” but notes that donors—and, remember, he’s talking about elite, wealthy donors here—have good reasons to give to both parties. Whichever party wins office, those donors can expect that their material interests will be fulfilled. Not because of bribery, simple quid-pro-quo’s, or access or influence, but simply because both parties are so ideologically amenable to meeting the needs and interests of wealthy donors.

Which leads to a second thought.

While GOP officeholders in Congress certainly want to be elected—and thus have an interest in the party remaining electorally competitive, at both the congressional and presidential level, and avoiding train wrecks like Trump—they have good reason to believe that they can rely upon state-level gerrymandering and dirty tricks to keep them in power. So if getting reelected is their main concern, they have little incentive to challenge the Trump-ist base. (This may change after November; we’ll see.)

And as long as the Democratic Party remains beholden to these elite donors that Thomas is talking about, those elements of big business that might otherwise want to make sure that the Republican Party remains electorally viable—if for no other reason than to have a reliable ally that will take care of their business interests in Congress—will have even less incentive to challenge the base.

Which leads to two conclusions:

First, for the foreseeable future, there will be no element within the Republican Party that will have either sufficient interest or power to challenge the base.

Second, not until the big business elements of the Democratic Party are purged or curbed—and thus forced to fall back on the GOP as their base of power—will there be any basis for a real challenge to Trump-ism within the GOP.



  1. Alex Davis June 15, 2016 at 1:05 pm | #

    Wouldn’t purely ideological overlap lead to donors giving *neither* party money, rather than *both*? Why spend money on an inevitable result?

    • Corey Robin June 15, 2016 at 2:03 pm | #

      That’s an excellent question, which someone else posted a half-hour ago on FB. I don’t have a response. Except to say that I went back to re-read the Thomas opinion, hoping to find an answer, and found this comment that I had written in the margin of the hard copy, when I first read it a few months ago: “So why give money at all?”

      • nonmanifestation June 15, 2016 at 3:25 pm | #

        I suppose (being extremely charitable), if you think that the Democrats and Republicans both support the policy that you want, and you’re worried about a third-party candidate who opposes it, it might make sense to donate to both.

      • Thomas Nephew June 15, 2016 at 6:38 pm | #

        “Why give money at all?” Maybe I’m missing something, but I think it’s because the Stevens-O’Connor majority opinion are right: it’s to preserve future access to either winning candidate. Justice Thomas’s point (many ideas are shared substantially by (candidates from) both parties) doesn’t *contradict* that, it *supports* it.

      • Glenn June 15, 2016 at 11:18 pm | #

        Threats for non-compliance with a donor’s wishes are more meaningful and noticeable when accompanied by a fear of asymmetric withholding of contributions from one competitor of a pair with identical needs.

        Neither George H. W. Bush nor Michael Dukakis could take action on the Savings and Loan crisis during their election campaign for fear of losing donations, so the crisis worsened until the election was over.

        Both parties are in competition to occupy a niche. Similarly, members of a species find their most fierce competition with members of their own species because no member of any other species desires to occupy precisely the same niche.

      • Glenn June 15, 2016 at 11:33 pm | #

        Walter Karp wrote that raising campaign donations was as easy as proposing reforms. The call for the proposed reforms would end with the receipt of donors cash.

        This put government office holders in the driver’s seat, as victimizers, not victims.

      • mark June 16, 2016 at 4:13 am | #

        Simon Wren-Lewis blog, Sunday, 4 January 2015, ‘The war with the banks has to be fought on two fronts’:

        “Why would Congress undo its own legislation in this way? The answer is not hard to find. US banks contribute huge amounts of money to fund the campaigns of those that run for congress, be they Democrat or Republican. It spends huge amounts on lobbying. Members of government often have or will work for these banks. Of course regulators can also be captured by those they are supposed to regulate. This could all be described as institutionalised corruption. The only big difference between the US and the UK or Europe is that these things are a little more open in the US. City contributions make up a large proportion of Conservative party donations in the UK, and the other parties are hardly indifferent to wealthy donors who made their money in the financial industry. Lobbying is extensive and there are plenty of legislators with links to the financial sector. As Tamasin Cave notes, the UK comes second only to Switzerland for the number of people moving through the “revolving door” between the finance sector and officialdom. Whether Europe’s attempts to put a cap on bankers’ bonuses made economic sense or not, the fact that the UK Chancellor and Treasury were prepared to try so hard to prevent it happening shows who calls the shots in the UK government. Similar points can be made about the extent of lobbying and industry links in Europe.”

      • Ben Johannson June 16, 2016 at 6:48 am | #

        Because business does compete for access and priority of their agendas. Just because both parties are ideologically inclined doesn’t mean their agendas optimally align with that of a given firm or industry, particularly when Google’s desire for public broadband conflicts with Verizon’s opposition.

      • Ron June 16, 2016 at 5:41 pm | #

        Inertia? Simply speaking this has gone on for so long that it just doesn’t seem right to change it. The fact that the big spenders have billions to throw around doesn’t mean that they necessarily do it in a completely rational way.

      • Richard Lachmann June 22, 2016 at 7:00 am | #

        Big contributors are buying access to influence specific provisions in laws or regulations. They want special items in the revenue code that will allow them to reduce their taxes, pressure from Representatives and Senators they finance on regulatory agencies to rework regulations that will allow them to emit fumes or waste that has 20 rather than 10 parts per billion a carcinogen, which saves them huge amounts in cleanup costs, special provisions written into trade treaties, etc. etc.

  2. Word!

    And a substantial part of that reform will involve the purging of the Democratic Party of its DNC/Clinton-ism.

    My concern as a progressive African American is that a future that sees a kicking of the Clintons to the curb will not happen even after two terms of Hillary flavored neoliberalism because Hillary will have the best enemies a corporatist Democrat can have: a foaming-at-the mouth misogynist racist GOP whose crypto-fascist base will be licking their self-inflicted wounds following a Trump down-in-flames defeat. I do not sustain the confidence that this is a likely outcome given Orange Hair’s popularity with rank-and-file Republicans, a popularity I am inclined to regard as actually greater than polls suggest — combined with the plain novelty of a wacky reality tv star as a real candidate for the most powerful elective office on Earth.

    If (– and, again, that is a bigger IF than polls indicate, I suspect) those p-o’ed GOP-ers will be out for blood. When they set their sights on President Hillary Clinton her support among Blacks will be irretrievably high, as she and Blacks frankly have the same enemies, no matter what neoliberal policy she pursues.

  3. Roquentin June 15, 2016 at 1:43 pm | #

    I agree, however….

    I know you think Hillary is a shoo-in, but I don’t. I think Trump is just as likely, if not moreso to come out on top in November. It’s way too close and early to even attempt to call at this point, but if I had to guess I’d even give Trump a slight edge. Pundits, the educated, people in what is generally termed “The Beltway” are too detached from most of America. Many of them fail to fully grasp just how bad things have gotten, how angry people are.

    Trump isn’t about fixing anything, he’s about pissing in the pool, soiling a political and civic system which doesn’t give a damn about their needs and no longer even pretends to. Remember when “Deez Nuts” almost became a serious contender during the primary? That’s how little respect people have for the political process, and sadly I find it hard to blame them. They might be ignorant, but they aren’t that dumb. They know Trump is a billionaire who couldn’t care less about them, but then again none of them do. I doubt you have much to do with Reddit, but look at /r/The_Donald for a little bit. It’ll be both nauseating and enlightening to see the kind of people behind him, a little window into a world you don’t often see. Just watch how often the term “cuck” gets thrown around as an insult. When you don’t have the sophistication or theoretical framework to express your anger in more productive ways, this the result. It’s absolutely a form of political ideology, just not of the sort most people think.

    More to the point, I’m not so sure finance capital and big business could stop this now if they tried. Things have gone too far. Maybe if they found a way to bypass popular sovereignty completely and directly nominate bourgeois technocrats to keep the machine running. It’d be like the Troika in the EU, elected by and answerable to no one except capital, yet able to dictate to popularly elected leaders such as those in Greek parliament exactly what they have to do.

    • Frank Wilhoit June 16, 2016 at 10:03 am | #

      I agree with your essential points & would like to gloss them as follows:

      1) The elites are each in their own very, very thick bubble. Neither Party elite understands its base. The media and the business community understand absolutely nothing whatever.

      2) Unaccountability, once granted, cannot be revoked. At this point, we have made business unaccountable, law enforcement unaccountable, the Church unaccountable, the Deep State unaccountable, etc. In order for any of these things to be reconstructed on an accountable basis, there would first have to be a philosophical revolution, restoring the understanding of why accountability is necessary and why it can only be universal. Then the spoiled institutions would have to be destroyed, to the last trace, and new ones built from scratch. No one is prepared to face the collateral damage that would follow from this.

    • Will G-R June 16, 2016 at 6:25 pm | #

      An off-topic explanation of the term “cuck” for those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar: derived from “cuckold”, the husband of a cheating wife, and specifically from cuckold pornography, a niche porn genre in which a husband (treated as the perspective of the viewer) witnesses his wife cheating on him. Furthermore, with rare exceptions the three characters in a cuckold porn flick are racially specific, a white husband and wife with a nonwhite (usually black) male interloper. So if we think of sexual fetishes as often connected with the deepest anxieties of the subject, the implication for a person likely to conceive of the insult “cuck” is a white male anxious about men of color “stealing our women”. Neat little racist/sexist two-fer-one!

      That said, I’d hesitate to posit too great an overlap between the /r/The_Donald userbase and his IRL following, if only because the anti-establishment sentiment of the former seem unlikely to last beyond an umpteenth viewing of V For Vendetta and actually mobilize for anything in particular. Or for that matter, unlikely to incorporate any political literature deeper than Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris.

  4. L.M. Dorsey June 15, 2016 at 3:08 pm | #

    Fr X’s sake.

    Richard Hofstadter observed (correctly) that the US did not have an ideology because it was one. (Just mull on that for a minute.)

    Gore Vidal, ever the Gracchus, made this more discursively explicit:

    There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently . . . and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.

    (So you say you want a revolution?/Well, you know/We all want to rule the world.)

    “We.” Well, there’s the problem, init? presuming we can’t simply extrude the unworthy (?)? But again, Vidal provides the only (no matter how distasteful) way out or forward or whatever your god says be the direction:

    Whenever I want to know what the United States is up to, I look into my own black, little heart.

    Why not start there? With our own black, little hearts. Fuck Marx. Fuck Keynes. Fuck Hayek. Fuck Friedman. (And the Buddha, if you meet him, well, you know…)

  5. jonnybutter June 15, 2016 at 8:13 pm | #

    Why spend money on an inevitable result?

    Maybe more than one answer? One: to keep the results inevitable. Two: to fine tune the results; and in support of those two: it’s so little money in the scheme of things.

  6. Matthew L Kees June 15, 2016 at 9:44 pm | #

    Why spend spend on an inevitable result? Because money is quid pro quo. It buys you or your company favors.

  7. Dallas June 15, 2016 at 11:11 pm | #

    This left me curious about how to think about European nationalist parties. Should I be able to find them only where there’s a similar situation as described here–all other parties are happy to “carry water” for capitalists leaving only one outlet for those discontented? It didn’t seem to fit, but there are other issues such as how coalitions are built…

  8. louisproyect June 16, 2016 at 8:29 am | #

    “Second, not until the big business elements of the Democratic Party are purged or curbed—and thus forced to fall back on the GOP as their base of power—will there be any basis for a real challenge to Trump-ism within the GOP.”

    That will never happen. Instead you are more likely to see a split from the DP led by a left-leaning wing composed of people like Bernie Sanders sometime in the future when conditions have ripened to the point of no return. At that point, you will begin to see genuine fascist bids that will make Donald Trump look like Bella Abzug. I will be dead by then and only hope that there will be people around ready to take the fight to the ruling class to the bitter conclusion. The fate of humanity and the natural world rests on the outcome.

  9. jonnybutter June 16, 2016 at 11:40 am | #

    it’s so little money in the scheme of things.

    If I could edit my comment, I’d refine: buying politicians is WAY cheaper than R&D, and returns on investment to date have already been an ‘insanely’ good deal for the bribers. I guess once pols are on your hook and the moment is right, you can – just on principle – grind them down on price, like you do everyone else – precipitate a price war among pols! But why give up your ‘seat at the table’ when it costs you next to nothing? You can’t just send pols the legislation you want passed (as it is now) without paying them something.

  10. John Maher June 16, 2016 at 7:29 pm | #

    “One of the reasons that big business hasn’t been able to step in and reverse the electoral train wreck that is the Trump campaign is not that the racist rank and file of the GOP base has so much power that big business is helpless.”

    I would disagree and, as would a conspiracy theorist, argue that Trump unfolds as Tartuffe or Chance Gardner. His “base” if any is irrelevant and the views of the Cruz and Perry campaign managers on Trump being essentially bought in by the sponsored media preference of oligarchs be assigned somewhat greater valence. A ridiculous claim that appears more credible with scrutiny.

    A few repurposed cliches: As for Hillary, yes convergence politics is the order of neoliberalism and the aisle is now not a political border but a large public trough. McCain is eternally a prisoner, not of the Vietnamese North, but his own compromised position on campaign finance laws and the right of wealth to stratify via its own agency. And expect Elizabeth Warren shall be handed a poison chalice at the appropriate point when Hillary wins.

    I thank Corey for casting Clarence Thomas in a new light for this reader. Less entertaining than Scalia, but more cynical. Who would have thought.

  11. stevenjohnson June 18, 2016 at 8:43 am | #

    Donald Trump was just as much an electoral train wreck on his way to the Republican Party nomination as he is on the way to the presidential election. Your confidence in your powers of prophecy are not supported by your lack of hindsight. Further, your assurance big business opposes Trump is equally unfounded. The man is getting billions in free publicity. Despite you, this means something about who “big business” supports.

    After all big media is big business too. If the industrial, commercial and financial business interests were genuinely deeply interested in stopping Trump, they have levers to put a halt to the media’s push for Trump (they are the main customers of the media.)

    The notion that real politics in the highly militarized US political system doesn’t include military and intelligence (aka security) is convenient. But it obscures the significant and continuing hostility to the Clintons on their part, from the gays in the military frenzy in their first days in power. They do not have the same hostility to Trump, despite the officer caste’s partisan commitment to the Republican Party. (Like law firms, the general officers have their Democratic partners, for outreach.)

    In fact, about all you really have to support your implicit contention Trump is an outsider is a specious limitation of insider or elite, even for big business (you don’t even seem to be aware that Trump is Big Business in his own person!) to elected officials. No doubt it is convenient for reactionary politics to denigrate the nominal representatives of the people at large as the incarnation of evil. That way, when you get rid of that nominal influence, the only players in the game will be big businessmen and soldiers and police, the way God intended. That’s why politician/politics bashing is essentially a right wing game, even when done by cientificos, progressives, etc.

    Alex Davis is correct about Clarence Thomas’ lack of insight. (The odd thing is taking Thomas seriously, instead of treating his thought as symptoms.) Public resentment of politics and politicians is supported by big business precisely because they feel victimized. Money donated to politicians and parties that doesn’t directly give returns on investment is a deduction from profits for managers and owners. Trumpism is ostensibly about doing away with the whole system. In the delusions of his supporters, he’s going to trash their enemies without worrying about all that democracy shit. Clinton stands for continuing the system where every four years business has to cough up billions of dollars for an elaborate sales campaign that doesn’t bear directly on the bottom line.

    The real question is, why pretend Trump is doomed to defeat when the course of events show that is preposterous? It can’t have anything to do with both Trump and Clinton being fundamentally the same, because the article asserts there is both something called Trumpism and that it is a policy of the (Republican) people, here called the “base.” The professed excuse is a call to “reform the Democratic Party” by somehow driving away the big business influence. It doesn’t say how to do this but, logically the first step would be to defeat big business’ standard bearer in the party. Since you can’t do this by voting third party, and you certainly can’t defeat Trump-ism by voting Trump…well, it’s no surprise in the end that the confusions of Clarence Thomas are so useful to the OP. At any rate once the big business is magically driven out of the Democratic Party, the big business elements will in self-defense defeat the Trumpists out of their only surviving vehicle, the Republican Party. Which is to say, the purpose of driving the big business out of the Democrats is to force them attack the rabble in the Republican Party.

    In my opinion, there is something deeply reactionary about strategizing to get the ruling class to attack the rabble.

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