Party of Grievance

Not of governance.

Geoffrey Kabaservice, Director of Political Studies at the Niskanen Center, has a piece in the NYT about the Republican Party that makes some interesting historical observations but also notes the degree to which it is the party of The forever grievance.

Before getting into several specific issues from the essay, I would note that Kabaservice received some remarkable confirmation last night from Trump’s rally in Valdosta, Georgia (the second tweet).  

This is fascinating (among other things) because it is a major line in the conservative entertainment complex that American liberals are the ones who are driven by grievances, and the Republican Party is the party of personal responsibility and the home of the rugged individualist.

But, according to Trump, they are now all victims.

Kabaservice ties in Trump and the contemporary GOP to this notion of grievance as follows:

Trump in 2016 articulated grievances that were based on the real problems of non-college-educated Americans in rural regions and postindustrial towns, communities that have been destroyed by job losses, family dysfunction, and epidemics of drug and alcohol addiction. The tea party had also channeled the anger and disappointment of Americans who had lost manufacturing jobs to automation and globalization, who sensed that both parties had permitted much of the economy’s gains to be captured by special interests, and who felt disdained by the cultural elite and ignored by the political elite. But both the tea party and Trump’s movement also were rooted in fact-free conspiracy theories about the treachery of Democrats and elites, who allegedly plotted to destroy the livelihoods and traditions of “real Americans” for their own benefit.

(More on the tea party below).

I would add, too, these feelings of grievance within the ranks of many in the GOP are the result of the erosion of the dominance of white males in American society. That erosion is inevitable as other groups are given equal access to power and influence. Further, there is also the erosion of the dominance of, broadly defined, “Christian values.” I would note that I say “erosion” rather than a strong term because despite the grievance narrative many tell themselves, white males remain disproportionately in positions of power and cultural Christianity is still more significant than any other religious or philosophical point of view in American culture. They have relatively less power and influence, even while they remain dominant (just not as dominant as before).

The fact that some people say happy holidays,* for example, is not evidence of a “war” on Christmas. And the fact that same-sex marriage is legal is not an assault on religious freedom.

Indeed, as I have noted before, I think the Republican Party, and the core of MAGA, is part of a clear reactionary moment. After all, the last A in MAGA is “Again” and it is decidedly backward-looking. (And yes, one could argue, as Corey Robin does, that American conservatism is inherently reactionary, but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole at the moment, as I am not wholly convinced of that thesis).

The whole notion of the 1950s as the zenith of America is at the heart of this reactionary impulse. In the idealized 1950s, GM was a colossus and American manufacturing dominated the world. It was the era of steel and coal and the industrial midwest. Men were men, and women were happy homemakers. And, by golly, everyone went to church on Sunday.

But, of course, never mind Jim Crow and the fact that homosexuality was considered a mental illness, with all that entails. Forget, too, that females had nowhere near the same rights or opportunities as males.

Sure, the divorce rate (to pick one indicator of social decline, according to some) was lower, but that wasn’t because of higher levels of piety, it was because women were severely curtailed in their ability to secure self-sufficiency.

Now, it should be noted, the mythic 1950s of MAGA has some basis in reality. The US was dominant in manufacturing in the 1950s. After all, our main competitors or potential competitors in Europe and Asia were rebuilding after the devastation of World War II. We had the combined advantages of global demand and lack of competition. A lot of people seem to forget this fact. So yes, US steel, coal, and automobile manufacturing were dominant in a way that would eventually become impossible to sustain as industrialized nations rebuilt after the war and as countries in the developing world industrialized themselves.

It was also an era of subsidized education for a huge swath of American males via the GI Bill and also the zenith of unionized labor with the middle class incomes and benefits that that entailed. It was also a period of massive investment in national infrastructure.

It is also true that as manufacturing grew elsewhere, and the economy globalized, that a lot of midwest industry was replaced for any number of reasons, not the least of which being cheaper labor elsewhere. This was an inevitable consequence of international capitalism.

Loss of power, real and perceived, is a powerful political force. Indeed, history demonstrates that relative loss of power can be more of a motivator for mass mobilization than constant, long-term deprivation. If one expects one thing but one gets another, that is more acutely felt than if one never had any expectations in the first place.

When I think of this kind of grievance, I think not just of MAGA hats at rallies, but things Justice Samuel Alito’s recent speech to the Federalist Society:

Even before the pandemic, there was growing hostility to the expression of unfashionable views. And that too, was the surprising development. Here’s a marker in 1972, the comedian George Carlin began to perform a routine called the seven words you can’t say on TV. Today, you can see shows on your TV screen in which the dialog appears at time to consist almost entirely of those words. Carlin’s list seems like a quaint relic, but it would be easy to put together a new list called things you can’t say if you’re a student or professor at a college or university or an employee of many big corporations. And there wouldn’t be just seven items on that list. 70 times seven would be closer to the mark. I won’t go down the list, but I’ll mention one that I’ve discussed in a published opinion. You can’t say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.

That this would happen after our decision in Obergefell should not have come as a surprise. Yes, the opinion of the court included words meant to calm the fears of those who claim to traditional views on marriage. But I could say and so did the other justices in dissent, where the decision would lead wrote the following. I assume that those who claim to old beliefs will be able able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes. But if they repeat those of us in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots, and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. That is just what is coming to pass. One of the great challenges for the Supreme Court going forward will be to protect freedom of speech. Although that freedom is falling out of favor in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second tier constitutional right.

Let me start with the bolded portion (emphasized in the transcript at Reason). I am struck when someone says “you can’t say” X and then says X.

Look, on one level he is correct: we, as a society, are evolving to the point that it is considered bigotry to oppose same-sex marriages. This kind of thing happens as societies change. Sometimes that which was once accepted becomes unacceptable, even for ideas based in religious belief.

Some decades ago, someone could have said (indeed, did say): “You can’t say that marriage is the union between one white man and one white woman. Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.

And, I would note, many, many pastors preached that the Bible taught that miscegenation was a sin.

Or, “You can’t say that only males can be X. Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.”

One can substitute X for a lot of things. President, an astronaut, a fighter pilot, a pastor, a priest, a CEO, on and on and on. Indeed, many Christian denominations and sects still forbid women from being pastors or priests.

One could easily assert that holding such a view is bigoted, even though it is based is based in a firm religious belief.

It is surprising, to a degree, that a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t understand that one is not protected from having others view you as bigoted for specific beliefs. Indeed, freedom allows us to have our own views on these subjects, regardless of what others wish us to believe.

Likewise, he knows full well that the First Amendment protects speech from curtail by government, not by society as a whole.

But, it is not surprising that a person from a privileged position (white, male, Christian) might think that the rules ought to prop up his specific preferences to the exclusion of other views.

The notion that religious liberty means that my religious views get to dominate, even to the point of escaping social opprobrium is the kind of thing that a group that believes it has the right to dominate has the luxury of having.

Alito’s view on this is also very directly an expression of grievance, and grievance based not on specific harms, but a grievance based on the loss of dominance.

Back to Kabaservice, who wrote a book on the history of the development of the GOP up to the Tea Party. In his essay he makes an interesting developmental point about the party:

Periodic upwellings of grass-roots anger and enthusiasm have energized the conservative movement for decades. The first outbreak dates to the “America First” isolationist and nativist groundswell of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare followed in the early ’50s. Next came the insurgency around Sen. Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964 and the similar movement around Ronald Reagan’s presidential candidacies in 1976 and 1980. Then there was the surge that won a Republican House majority in 1994 — and made Newt Gingrich speaker — and, finally, the tea party.

He notes this cycle and specifically the way in which the given movement of the moment usually required that movement to learn to govern once it achieve electoral success:

these different conservative movements succeeded in electing at least some people who sincerely tried to address the grievances and aspirations that animated the grass-roots activism. These activists turned legislators chose, in short, to govern.

But the very acts of becoming educated about the political process, working through the system to pass legislation or undo progressive excesses, and attracting new constituencies to win reelection led most conservative firebrands to become more moderate — or at least more pragmatic. When I interviewed former senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), he recalled how the Goldwater movement followed this pattern after propelling a number of right-wing hotheads into political offices in Washington state. Over the next decade, they adapted. Reagan’s supporters then ran against the Goldwaterites. The Reaganites who succeeded, in their turn, became more pragmatic in attempting to govern and win reelection. A dozen or so years later, they were deposed by the Gingrichites to their right, who reigned until the cycle repeated itself with the tea party movement.

“The people who are in party organizations and want to win elections have to make certain compromises,” Gorton told me, “and then they get thrown out by the true believers.” A perfect example was John Boehner, who had been a right-wing bomb-thrower during the Gingrich era but became the embodiment of the GOP establishment until tea partyers made his job as House speaker so miserable that he resigned in 2015.

In other words: a movement would emerge, and once dominant within the party would try to implement its policy goals. But that would require a) learning to govern, and b) becoming the new establishment. New insurgencies within the party would emerge when their goals were not being met.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

I have not read Kabaservice’s book, but this description makes a certain amount of sense.

But, what about now? He argues that Trump is an extension of the Tea Party impulse in the GOP that started in 2010. I think this is accurate.

The tea party, though, was something new. It departed from the cyclical pattern of previous conservative movements. The 87 Republicans swept into the House by the tea party wave in 2010 mostly came from gerrymandered conservative districts, so they had no need to moderate to win over Democratic and independent voters; their only threat to reelection was being outflanked from the right in a GOP primary. But while they could have had long political careers, comparatively few did. A 2016 profile of the tea party class observed that by that time, nearly a quarter were gone, many of them having “decided after just five years that they’ve had enough of Congress.” By 2018, nearly half had left the House (although some went on to the Senate or other political offices).

Many of these legislators genuinely hated being in government — and so, unsurprisingly, were lousy at governing. They achieved some success in rolling back regulations and cutting spending, but unlike their predecessors, they proved unwilling or unable to engage in the hard work and unsatisfactory compromises that governing requires. Their mission to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama came to grief largely because they never came up with any substitute.

And this is where we are at the moment. One of our major parties does not have much interest in governing. And ours is a system that is both polarized and disincentivizes new party formation, meaning that governance itself is being challenged. Worse, the institutional structure of our system empowers the minority party, which is the one that doesn’t want to govern.

And the emphasis above it mine, and it underscores a major reason that the cycle that Kabaservice describes over the last near-century has been broken–the tea party/MAGA types don’t have competitive pressures to shape their long-term behavior.

Unlike previous iterations of the conservative movement, the tea party’s opposition to governing and its own party’s establishment was an enduring feature. Its House caucus was defunct by 2012, when most grass-roots tea party activism had also sputtered out. But the tea party ideal lived on — mostly online and out of public view — through the continuing radicalization of its remaining followers.

This all quite problematic if one thinks, regardless of one’s specific political philosophy, that good governance is an appropriate goal. It is also problematic for democracy, writ large, because no matter what the majority of Americans may want, the nature of the Senate means that the party of nongoverance likely can block it. And, of course, there are the ongoing problems of the Electoral College and the noncompetitive nature of many, many House elections.

Trump and Republicans in Congress could have chosen to pursue policies that would have improved the lives of their supporters. But the tea party’s contempt for policymaking carried over into the Trump administration; the GOP couldn’t even be bothered to assemble a platform at this year’s convention. Although the tea party claimed that its most sacred principle was fiscal conservatism, Trump’s supporters raised no objections when budget deficits grew by nearly $4 trillion during his term. And despite the administration’s shameful failure to contain the pandemic that by now has killed about 270,000 Americans, conservatives increasingly are drawn to the grotesque QAnon conspiracy theory that portrays Trump as a surpassingly competent leader locked in apocalyptic struggle with child-devouring, Satan-worshiping Democrats.

Even once Trump is gone, this pattern seems likely to persist. The current dominant impulse in the GOP would appear to be stopping a significant amount of governing as a means to stop real and perceived loss of power by Republican constituencies as well as part of a mythical quest to restore a glorious past that never existed in the first place.

As per Kabaservice’s concluding point, this surely is not sustainable indefinitely. Either some confluence of outcomes may allow Democrats to capture the whole of the federal government, and perhaps engage in some meaningful reforms. And/or demographic shifts (say, in Texas) will undercut the current institutional constellation that is empowering Republicans and lead to them seeking to change their approach to competition as a means of self-preservation.

The unnerving part, however, is that none of this is likely to happen soon.

Worse, another possibility is that a real crisis will emerge that pushed the whole system into collapse.

*It worth noting that the song “Happy Holiday” (written by Irving Berlin and sung originally by Bing Crosby) premiered in 1942. I guess it goes to show that the War on Christmas is patient.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. de stijl says:

    Perhaps the best piece you ever wrote. Well done. Clean and clear.

  2. Raoul says:

    On Alito, I find interesting his discourse on foul language when he was in the majority requiring the Patent and Trademark Office to register profane words.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Indeed, a well done piece.

    Tom Sullivan at Digby has a piece on Powell and Wood and the Drunk Bee Hive Lady discussing how cranks gather power. In passing he notes,

    The supposed decay of the atomic family decried by conservatives since the 1950s was not the product of teaching Marxism or eliminating official prayer in public classrooms. Automobiles made possible urban sprawl and bedroom communities. People could work miles away in one direction, go to church miles away in another; and school and play, etc. TV’s made it possible for families to entertain themselves inside the house rather than seek community out in the neighborhood. Societal changes are not always the products of the Devil or more terrestrial dark forces.

    While one can, and should, complain about lobbyist written trade agreements, globalization is the result of container ships and freight airliners and globally available capital and the internet. Acceptance of gays happened because gay activists made it impossible to ignore and society eventually decided to accept it, while Obama, along with most Democrats, was furiously sidestepping the issue

    The aggrieved are demanding political solutions to problems that are not the result of politics and are not amenable to realistic political solutions. Democrats struggle to address this. They offer symptomatic relief the aggrieved see as welfare.

    Republicans have a way to square the circle. They lie. They promise to get industrial jobs back in the heartland and put Christ back in Christmas, while intending to do little except regressive tax cuts and ignoring AGW. I don’t know how long they can keep up the con, or who’ll get hurt when it blows up.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    An interesting piece, Steven. I would be interested in seeing some discussion on how this essay arguing that the post-Tea Party Republican Party is different than prior Republican grass-roots movements, as it has no incentives to moderate its position to govern, fits in with your oft-stated position that Republicans largely support Trump because of party loyalty. One would expect more defectors from the Republican electorate, as those who actually want government to pass laws to reflect their goals will be disappointed.

  5. Gustopher says:

    One quibble:

    But, what about now? He argues that Trump is an extension of the Tea Party impulse in the GOP that started in 2010. I think this is accurate.

    This really undervalues the contributions of Sarah Palin to our national discourse.

    A case can be made that it goes back to Newt Gingrich, but I think it is Palin where the clear break from reality happens, where the Republican establishment stopped just catering to the idiot rubes and started trying to elect the idiot rubes to national office.

    There is no Trumpism, it’s just Palinism.

    Also, the “alpha man” Donald J. Trump is really just a Karen.

  6. @Gustopher: There is a clear place for Palin in any history of the evolution of the GOP. And I would even say that Palin was part of the same general impulse that manifested as the tea party in 2010.

    But, of course, it isn’t like any of these impulses are disconnected, Reagan built off of Goldwater. Gingrich built off of Reagan. And the tea party built off of Gingrich.

    But there is something to be said that Boehner, who was part of Gingrich’s Republican Revolution, ultimately did not mesh with the tea party.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    Excellent piece Dr. T

    It is ironic that the period that members of the modern R party want to return to, is also maybe the most ‘socialistic’ period in American history. As you mentioned strong unions and massive Federal government infrastructure spending, but there was also a high level of support for education, including post secondary. You were at the zenith of corporate socialism, where the corporation did take a balanced view as to its responsibilities to the communities of interest within it, not simply, the stockholders and executives. Government did take an active role in economic planning and development.

  8. Jon says:

    It is also true that the top marginal tax rate was around 90% throughout the entire decade of the 1950’s, which went a long way towards funding and/or otherwise supporting American economic dominance.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ve mentioned before that the loss of power and status for men has worried me for at least 30 years. (Power is the metric that most fascinates me.) The problem is that men are not wrong – we have lost power and status relative to whatever starting point you prefer. There are no more occupational carve-outs for men, nothing that is uniquely ours. The surprise to me has been how passively it’s been accepted for the most part, after all, this did not just start four years ago.

    Much the same on race and religion. Yes, clearly, whites have a smaller piece of the power pie than we did in earlier decades (and centuries.) And religion generally has been losing ground. I’ve been an atheist for 50 years and it is a hell of a lot safer to say that now than it was 50 years ago.

    So the grievances are real. Yes, white, male Christians have less power and lower status than we once did. Most of us note that fact, shrug and get on with adapting. But that adaptation is a whole lot easier for engineers, academics and writers, like the people who haunt the OTB comments section.

    This is why I’ve never really believed this was an economics thing. Pushing money into rural areas won’t help. More education won’t help – the people able to profit from education already have access. The only long-term solution is for white, male Christians (and other hues of male, too) to get over it, to accept change and with it their loss of status and power.

    Early on in the Trumptastrophe I was concerned that culture might follow politics, but I’ve seen little evidence of that. Conservatives dominate politics thanks to some unfortunate decisions of the Founders, but liberals define culture in this country. And, interestingly, business is with the liberals – business does not like conflict or uncertainty, and if they’re facing a choice between larger markets or smaller ones, between the educated coastal classes and incoherently angry goobers, they’ll choose large markets and people with useful degrees. In the end I’d put my money on the power of the culture over politics. I think liberals will win – we generally do, eventually – but it’s going to be a long road and there will be blood.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    The US barely showed up for WW1 and sat out WW2 until we were forced into it, on tomorrow’s date 79 years ago. It was a unique situation that allowed us to dominate simply by virtue of having intact infrastructure and a relatively paltry death toll.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    It’s not normal Christianity. It’s a religion of feeling sorry for yourself and whining. It used to be that you got the meat of the jobs simply because you were white and male and America was on the top of the heap and had unionised jobs. Now you’re in competition with a whole lot of other people, people of different colours and sexes and nationalities. People who are willing to come to the table with more, who speak different languages, have more skills, and are willing to work more and more efficiently. And you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you’re not able to coast into a “good-paying job” the way your white male father and grandfather did.

    As someone coming from the other side, someone who wouldn’t even have been allowed into the same clubs/universities/job opportunities you take access for granted, imagine my sympathy. Not.

  12. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Having two massive oceans between us and mayhem helped a whole lot.

    Discounting the civil war, we haven’t faced foreign troops in our land since 1812.

    Arguably with Mexico. Face it, we were sorta the bad guys there. Was Texas even a state then?

  13. Jon says:

    @de stijl: Pancho Villa raided New Mexico in 1916, resulting in Pershing being sent after him. The whole thing kinda petered out when we entered WWI I believe.

  14. de stijl says:

    The loss of privilege and dominance. Boo friggin hoo. I am unmoved by stolen butt-hurt.

    Welcome to America.

  15. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I could be wrong, of course, but the difference between Palin and Trump and their predecessors is that I’ve never seen the total worshipfulness accorded to any politician like the kind that was initially given to Palin and then Trump. People who loved Ronald Reagan loved him, but I have no recollection that they thought of him as an actual savior, a God-like figure to be revered, the way they did Palin and then Trump.

  16. de stijl says:


    Point taken.

    Having big oceans on both coasts is god-sent geography and it has shaped our view of the world.

  17. Jon says:

    @de stijl: Sorry, that wasn’t meant as a “let me correct you” so much as a “wow, that was a thing that actually happened.”

  18. de stijl says:


    No worries. We’re cool.

    Text is bad at nuanced “Yes, but” stuff.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    We did emerge from WWII unscathed compared to our enemies and most of our allies. We did have intact infrastructure with which to compete in the world. But while we enjoyed the economic growth of the fifties (and sixties and early seventies), Europe saw les trente glorieuses and the Wirtschaft swunder and the miracolo economico. I don’t know what the Japanese called it, but they experienced it. So I think there’s more to the story than just an intact US in an impoverished world.

    Piketty sees the three “glorious” decades as a result of the destruction of capital in WWI, the Depression, and WWII, and with it a loss of the political power of capital. The Marshall plan played a major role in Europe. @Jon: mentions the 90% top marginal rate in the US as a source of funding for growth. I think it also, importantly, restricted the political power of wealth. I have no idea how taxes worked in Europe.

    If you look at plots of economic variables, many things in the US show a break for the worse around the mid 70s. Hacker and Pierson say that’s when corporate money started to be more politically active.

    I don’t know what the solution is, Piketty suggests a wealth tax. But I’m pretty sure electing a Manhattan “billionaire” who lies like a rug wasn’t helpful.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    It was also an era of subsidized education for a huge swath of American males via the GI Bill and also the zenith of unionized labor with the middle class incomes and benefits that that entailed. It was also a period of massive investment in national infrastructure.

    And as noted by @Sleeping Dog and @Jon, a time of crazy-high marginal income tax rates at the top and a ton of carryover programs from the New Deal.

    American conservatives have all along had to insist that the 50s were the greatest boom time in US history in spite of being the most progressive era in US history — that it would have been even better if not for the deadweight drag of all that Socialism. Of course this is nonsense — as is the claim (that persists to this day) that high marginal tax rates on the rich will necessarily stifle economic growth.

  21. Jay L Gischer says:

    I agree with the thesis. Wholeheartedly. One of the grievances that isn’t mentioned here is a grievance about the accusation of “collusion with the Russians”. Never mind that there are a bunch of uncontested facts that are problems. There was a storm of disapproval and delegitimization of Trump four years ago. Not from D politicians so much, but on the internet. But to Trump and, it would appear, many other R politicians, because someone on the internet said the same thing, that makes it equivalent.

    So I think there are definitely those who think what Trump is doing now is payback for four years ago.

    Mind you, I don’t endorse this for a second. I’m just trying to “know my enemy”.

  22. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    Was Texas even a state then?

    Making Texas a state led to the war with Mexico.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    As it happens, my father sent me a link today that is exactly on topic here:
    This Marxist philosopher foresaw the rise of Trumpism more than 80 years ago

  24. Jon says:

    @DrDaveT: I think there are a whole lot of people who do not realize that taxes were as high as they were throughout the 50’s, nor that it was JFK who first brought the top marginal rate down into the low 70% range where it stayed pretty much until Reagan came along and cut it down to levels most folks now assume to be the ‘normal’ range. I’ve had too many strange conversations with conservative relatives who are firmly convinced that Bill Clinton raised taxes to the highest they’d ever been. Right-wing mythology is a hell of a drug.

  25. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Thank you for this thought provoking OP, Steven.

    I think what Palin brought to the table that made the tea party cycle so different than previous grievances was the validation of “crankism.” Here was a Vice Presidential candidate spouting the most inane things and out of deference to her place on a major party’s ticket, she wasn’t laughed out of the room. It’s a relatively short leap from liberal government Death Panels to an entire party of child-devouring, Satan-worshiping Democrats.

    Without Palin, I contend Trump would not have triumphed in the 2016 primaries.

  26. DrDaveT says:


    I don’t know what the solution is, Piketty suggests a wealth tax.

    No one tool is going to solve the problem; you need a coherent set of policies that counteract (and overcome) the natural tendency of wealth to concentrate under capitalism, while leaving in place sufficient incentive to work hard and innovate. I think the lesson from the 50s is that you can do a whole lot more wealth redistribution and social engineering than you think without really putting a crimp in productivity and innovation.

    Even at peak wealth equality in the US, our GINI coefficient was still above .35, and held pretty steady for decades. It’s only since 1980 that it has climbed steadily. For comparison, in 2009 the OECD countries (after taxes) had an overall Gini Index of .31

  27. Kathy says:

    The US benefits greatly from the buffers offered by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as having comparatively weak and smaller, not to mention peaceful, neighbors.

    Back on topic, I’m reminded of the decades leading up to the Civil War. The slave states held more power, won more victories in court, but still saw support for slavery go down, though it was not typically accompanied by support for equal rights for blacks, and yet they felt like the aggrieved party. and when they thought things would really no longer go their way as much, they attempted to secede.

    things are not as geographically neat as they were back then (no Mason-Dixon line for equal rights and tolerance!) So attempts at secession, which no one would take seriously, and civil war, which is a real possibility, would be far messier then the contretemps of the 1860s.

    And civil war within a nuclear power could be literally catastrophic.

  28. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It was a unique situation that allowed us to dominate simply by virtue of having intact infrastructure and a relatively paltry death toll.

    And the East Texas oil field.

  29. steve says:

    The GOP has been the grievance party for a while. What I dont get is why the GOP gets to call the Democrats the party that supports identity politics. The GOP has been dominated by identity politics for a long time, but since it is white evangelicals it doesnt count for some reason. Will never understand this.


  30. Michael Cain says:


    And civil war within a nuclear power could be literally catastrophic.

    A split of the US will be a relatively peaceful partition, not bullets. The issues that everyone is fussing about right now will not be the issues that lead to such a partition.

  31. Michael Cain says:

    This is a really good piece, Steven. Well done!

  32. gVOR08 says:


    The GOP has been dominated by identity politics for a long time, but since it is white evangelicals it doesnt count for some reason.

    Vanilla is not seen as a flavor.

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    …relatively peaceful partition…
    Compared to what?
    Any partition of The United States will at a minimum be about race. Christian Honkieland will want to cleanse it’s turf of all nonwhites. How are they going to do that without the use of force?

  34. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    Without Palin, I contend Trump would not have triumphed in the 2016 primaries.

    I tend to blame Reagan. He put a pleasant avuncular face on what’s really a rather silly, yet repugnant, philosophy. No Reagan – no W, no Palin, and no Trump. But I’ll agree Palin blazed the trail to crazytown.

  35. Michael Cain says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    As a candidate for discussion, the 13-state Census Bureau western region. There are no states where African Americans are the largest minority group, several where they aren’t the second largest. Latinos are moving relatively quickly to “white” status. Fire, water, federal land management, and electricity that doesn’t require cooling water are issues they all have in common that simply don’t apply on the other side of the Great Plains. Most of those states want, in some fashion, control of the federal government’s dams and (more importantly) electricity transmission assets.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    A split of the US will be a relatively peaceful partition, not bullets.

    Will it? How will such a breakup be peaceful…

  37. Mister Bluster says:

    …13-state Census Bureau western region.

    I’m not quite sure on what you are proposing. A Whites Only Western Region? The other 37 states open to all? Or will I be forced to relocate from the midwest to the west?

  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @An Interested Party:..Will it? How will such a breakup be peaceful…

    Drugs. Spike the water supply with LSD.

  39. Teve says:

    @Mister Bluster: Jesustan won’t have to cleanse its territory. Just institute apartheid.

  40. Teve says:

    A split of the US will be a relatively peaceful partition, not bullets. The issues that everyone is fussing about right now will not be the issues that lead to such a partition.

    Oh please elaborate on this.

  41. Gustopher says:


    I tend to blame Reagan. He put a pleasant avuncular face on what’s really a rather silly, yet repugnant, philosophy. No Reagan – no W, no Palin, and no Trump. But I’ll agree Palin blazed the trail to crazytown.

    Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II all used the rubes. Palin was the rubes.

    And McCain was the one who crossed the Rubicon, giving the hateful blithering idiot wing of the Republican Party a seat at the big table.

    Did he not know what he was doing? Did he think he could control it? Even if he didn’t recognize it when he picked her, he had to have recognized it not long after. He should have fired her crazy ass from the ticket. He spoke out against the crazy wing a few times that campaign — the inartfully worded “No, ma’am, Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim, he’s a good man who I just disagree with” — but it was all just window dressing while she remained on the ticket.

    Plus, it would have really bolstered his “Maverick” reputation if he gave a heartfelt speech about how he doesn’t always make the right choice, but he doesn’t stick with the wrong one out of pride, and dumped her.

    McCain is someone I think generally tried to be on the right side of things, but he royally screwed the pooch.

  42. de stijl says:


    McCain knew he toast. No R could win in 2008 after Bush shat that bed.

    Palin was a Hail-Mary ploy. I’m vibrant and sexy.

    I have a dim hope that Trumpism fades as fast as Palinism did. It won’t. He’s unleashed a bad djinni that will haunt us for decades.

    Remember when Palin launched her pay to watch website? Cratered a year later.

    She faked like she was a bad-ass frontierswoman. Remember Sarah Palin’s Alaska? She had a 200 yard shot at a caribou with a scoped rifle and missed four times.

    Fake. Phony. Bye, Fakelecia.

    We didn’t dodge this last bullet, though. Trump is a dick with legs. Gonna stick around shouting at clouds and mucking things up.

  43. grumpy realist says:

    @de stijl: It used to be that if you did stupid things, the consequences came around and bit you. HARD. People who didn’t believe in hygiene or vaccines ended up having their children die or they died themselves. Ended up acting like an ass to all your neighbours? They didn’t come by with spare food during the famine.

    Now of course we’re constantly rescuing people from the consequences because “it wouldn’t be fair.”

  44. Tony W says:


    My grandmother divorced her cheating, lying, no-good husband sometime in the late 1940s. Details are sparse, it was not discussed, but it is clear he had at least one affair and it became well known in their small town – leaving my grandmother humiliated.

    As it turns out, she was a schoolteacher. In a small town in Kansas.

    Divorcing put her job in jeopardy. There was an investigation of her personal life. There were closed-door hearings. She had to appear before the school board. Ultimately, because my grandfather’s behavior was well known, she was allowed to continue teaching, but she was forced to bring my mother to go live with her parents, rather than live in a house by herself.

    This is the America that MAGA wants back.

  45. Kingdaddy says:

    Just have to bring up the F-word again. Fascists are not interested in politics as other political groupings do. For them, it really is all about grievance, centered around a vision of a mythic past that they hope to impress on reality. Governance is irrelevant to that, at least until the fascists are firmly in power (and not even that strongly after that). The purpose of politics is the reiteration of that vision through rallies, propaganda, and other channels. Dissent is inconceivable, if it at all varies from an embrace of that vision. “Corruption” doesn’t mean the abuse of public resources for private gain, but more along the lines of “degeneracy,” in the same sense that the Nazis saw “degenerate art” as a dangerous distraction from or denial of the purity of their Herrenvolk vision.

    Fascists are full of grievances, therefore. They complain they don’t have absolute power. They complain about the non-compliance of other groups with their vision (see the twisted concept of “religious liberty”). They complain that institutions are blocking their way. They complain about traitors who lead the country away from their mythic past.

    Instead of governing, they focus on propaganda. The point of politics isn’t the creation of public goods, expressed in boring graphs about topics like the effectiveness of federal investments in promoting better farming practices, or the rate of incarceration by demographic. Instead, the ultimate moment of real politics, for them, is the rush of shared outrage against imagined foes, the collective incantation of unifying litanies (lock her up, own the libs, climate change is a hoax, etc.), the exaltation of symbols of the lost Eden. Fascism inverts normal politics, in which mobilizing images and litanies are the means to achieve particular ends through governance. Instead, governance is subordinate to mobilization.