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How the Republicans went radical Two new books prove we should have seen Donald Trump coming

Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc,/ Getty


July 27, 2021   7 mins

We were in Ohio, in some small town. It was 2008 and John McCain had just announced Sarah Palin as his running mate against Barack Obama. My duties that day involved a piece for the BBC’s 10 O’Clock News on how the Republican campaign was going. I had bought a tie in a local store and the assistant had complimented me on my accent, “Y’all sound like Hugh Grant.” I did: and it was deliberate. Sounding like Hugh Grant gets an Englishman places in small-town, middle America.

When we got to the venue, something strange was going on. There was a palpable hostility, something I had never encountered before in these places. People saw our camera and scowled. They heard my best impersonation of the sainted actor and seemed distressingly less bowled-over than normal.

As we interviewed people outside the hall where McCain was due to appear, I thought of my mum. She would have rolled her eyes at these folk — she was a Quaker peace activist and had firm views about America generally and the Republican party in particular. But, equally, she would have wanted me to do them justice, despite the difficulties presented.

She thought the media played a role in demonising perfectly reasonable protests (like the CND marches she attended) by focusing on the maddest looking demonstrators. So what should I do about the woman who told me, as we stood in the sun outside the hall, that Barack Obama was, to use her precise words, “An abortionist, a child killer, a murderer”?

Channelling mum, I decided not to use the clip. The woman seemed upset, deranged even. John McCain’s campaign had been a paragon of moderation – he had recently ticked off a supporter at a meeting who described Obama as an Ay-rab – and the use of this woman, and a couple of others who also seemed beyond the pale, would do the whole party and the whole campaign a disservice. Perhaps it was just an off day for her, for all the people gathered. It would not be fair to use them to characterise the wider party base.

Or would it? Looking back, knowing what we now know, we should have used that clip and the others. We should have used our vox-pops to do what vox-pops rarely do: tell us what was happening. I should have spotted — we all should have spotted — that the Republican party was heading irrevocably in a direction not charted by Senator McCain. We should have seen that he was toast, not at the hands of the Democrats, most of whom rather liked and admired him, but at the hands of his own people, his own party. I should have made more of the fact that almost all the people I met that day were energised by the thought of a Sarah Palin presidency. And by an irrational hatred of Obama: not Obama dislike but Obama phobia.

Two new books on the fate of the Republican party make the point that, far from being a hostile takeover, the Trump rise to power was driven by this grassroots — as well as plenty of people at the top. They suggest it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court by the New York Times’s Jackie Calmes focuses on Brett Kavanaugh, the Trump appointed Supreme Court Justice who tipped the balance of the court towards the conservatives: the moment the desires of the Republican base became realised. The moment, in a sense, that they won. But it makes a wider point about the people and the party whose victory this was:

“Its voters were Trumpian before they’d embraced his brand ….Long before he’d descended the Trump Tower escalator to run for president, the base was dominated by culture warriors who’d been riled for decades by Rush Limbaugh, his thousands of local imitators, Fox News pundits, and ever more right-wing websites and networks; by 2020 most Republicans got their ‘news’ solely from such sources, willfully closed off from balanced, factual coverage and unpersuadable. Disillusioned by George W. Bush, they’d coalesced as the leaderless Tea Party. Finally, they jumped on the Trump Train.”

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic, in his collection of essays, The Cruelty is the Point:The past, present and future of Trump’s America, suggests that a remarkable myopia at the top of the Republican party allowed this to happen. They thought they were all heading for the same promised land – the bow-tied intellectuals in Washington think tanks and the sweaty farmhands. But no:

“Conservative intellectuals misunderstood that Eden and what it looked like. They projected their low-tax, federalist, small-government beliefs onto a Republican rank and file whose views were far more complex and far more motivated by identity than conservative commentators wanted to admit. So when an authoritarian reality-show star …. appeared, promising to ‘Make America Great Again’, they believed the conservative base would reject him.”

Ooops.

Well ok, but why would they have this belief in the first place? Surely the fault is not with the “great unwashed”, as it were, but in their leaders who failed either to understand them or to bother to work out how to help them come to terms with modernity? The party panjandrums had not exactly delivered for their people. In the era of globalisation, the drift of jobs to China, the atomisation of communities, the relentless onward march of the values of the elite, they had not done much to halt it or suggest alternatives. George W Bush seriously tried, in his second term, to privatise the US federal pension system: the ultimate free-market liberal solution to a problem (future unsustainable debt) that most of the party base could not understand or give a monkey’s about.

So, no, I didn’t see it coming in Ohio on the day my Hugh Grant charm bombed, but nor did people a good deal closer to the party. And it was their job to lead. In that respect, hindsight is doing a lot of work in Dissent : the Trump cataclysm was not quite as obvious as Jackie Calmes suggests. Also, with their focus on Republican party, these books suggest that the Democrats were somehow blameless bystanders, watching as half the nation took to pills and cheap booze and the fetishising of better times when cars had fins and girls wore prettier frocks.

No: all of upper-middle-class America was complicit. Dissent suggests that Kavanaugh, this unappetising privileged man, party animal who was accused (though never in court) of attempting rape, was somehow emblematic of a Republican party that had lost its bearings. But all of what the author Chris Arnade has called “front row America” had lost its bearings. The Democrats were as (perhaps, are as) committed to elite protection as the GOP was. The capture of places at the best universities. The amassing of great wealth down the generations. The huge pay in Google or Facebook or whatever anti-racist, anti-sexist corner office they inhabit. To blame it on Kavanaugh and the capture of the Supreme Court seems a bit lame: it is arguably true that the court has been skewed by a rural/conservative bias imposed with little democratic accountability. It is certainly true that rural states representing minorities of Americans have assisted in bringing this modern Supreme Court into existence. But shouldn’t the Democrats have seen this coming? Could they not have kept their appeal wide enough to head off disaster?

One of the oddnesses of modern US politics is how the structural imbalance of power has been accentuated. The divide between rural and urban America is not new: but the almost total retreat of the Democrats from the rural areas and of the Republicans from inner cities has placed a formerly gentle conflict on steroids. In the past, it was not principally party-political. Small state conservative Democrats were a thing, so were big city progressive Republicans. That’s almost over now: and the big cities put the Democrats in charge of the culture, leaving the small towns to place the Republicans in charge of the politics of the nation, via the various processes that keep urban political power in check.

You can see why the cultural losers in the boondocks fight so hard to win politically. What Jackie Calmes calls “the radicalization of the Republican party” is not just about being nasty. It’s about holding on to an idea of a nation that until recently was widely accepted. Or is that naïve? Is it also about a dislike, a fear, of people of colour?

Adam Serwer’s book claims that the Republican radicalisation is mostly about race. The title is from an essay he wrote, a piece that caught the mood of the anti-Trump nation during the presidency. Serwer had been looking at photos of lynchings of black men in the deep south — at the suffering and the pleasure it was giving the attackers:

“Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.”

That single paragraph electrified anti-Trump America. Finally, an explanation for all the horror. An explanation that does not excuse or condone or dress up with some fake stuff about reduced life chances but an explanation that does also explain Trump supporters in a way that does not dehumanise them. In the book of essays Serwer provides context and builds on the theme. But he’s a subtle writer: this is not a dull jeremiad about racial injustice tearing America apart. In fact rather the opposite. As he says in one of the essays, he sees a way out:

“The reality… is that political violence is less common in the present than it has been at many points in American history, despite the ancient plague of white supremacy, the lingering scourge of jihadism, and the influence of a president who revels in winking justifications of violence against his political opponents and immigrants. Many Americans can’t stand one another right now. But apart from a few deranged fanatics, they do not want to slaughter one another.”

Well, it’s a start. Sawyer concentrates on what the Democrats must do now. Press on, he says. Don’t compromise. In fact, his call is for a radicalisation of the Democrats to match the Republicans. After this political fight, make sure there is a winner and a loser. Don’t compromise to turn it into a tie that undoes the victory, as happened more than a century ago: “In the aftermath of a terrible war, Americans once purchased an illusion of reconciliation, peace, and civility through a restoration of white rule. They should never again make such a bargain.”

I am not entirely sure that the nation can take the kind of punishment Adam Serwer has in mind – presumably involving the packing of the Supreme Court, the abolition of the remaining rights of Senators to filibuster, perhaps the abandonment of the electoral college too. And the mighty roar of a Trump-inspired fight-back.

Both these books assume that the Democrats must go for broke now. Sawyer wants constitutional and political upheaval and Calmes seems to think the whole game is up: she has also lost faith in the ability of the Republican party to come home to democracy. She approvingly quotes the conservative anti-Trump columnist Kathleen Parker: “The chance to move away from Trumpism, towards a more respectful civilized approach to governance that acknowledges the realities of a diverse nation and that doesn’t surrender to the clenched fist, has slipped away. What comes next is anybody’s guess.”

My guess is that it’ll be bumpy but ultimately the Republicans will return to democracy. And the Democrats, under Biden, will keep to a moderate path. Optimism about America is in short supply, I grant you; but in the Serwer essays, we have a clear-minded Left-wing critic of his nation who is essentially coming out as an optimist. There is no point, he believes, in concentrating on Trump. There is every point in noticing what has happened, and learning from it:

“As much as he may have appeared to be the driver of the forces tearing the country apart, he was more a consequence of them, of our failure as a nation to live up to our founding promises. The cruelty was the point, but it was also always a part of us.”

Don’t give up, in other words. Not on the Republicans. Not on America. Not on democracy.


Justin Webb presents the Americast podcast and Today on Radio Four. His Panorama documentary “Trump the Sequel”, is available now on  Iplayer

JustinOnWeb

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters”

(‘The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 by Democrats’)

WOW, this is article pure crazy, and with this sort of spittle flecked rant attacking conservative values coming from a BBC person I can understand why any article on the BBC in Daily Mail has 1000 up arrow posts saying to stop paying your fee, to 19, or so, down arrows. It is all about race on the Left.

“Fox News pundits, and ever more right-wing websites and networks; by 2020 most Republicans got their ‘news’ solely from such sources, willfully closed off from balanced, factual coverage and unpersuadable.

Now coming from BBC, NYT, and Atlantic sources this is a bit much. The writer begins by saying he regrets not using every weapon against Republicans he could have, and I am sure he will, and does in this article. (The woman calling Obama an abortio*ist was his example.)

I live in the USA Deep South, my town is totally mixed race, we all get along, anyone can live where they wish, do what they wish, we all hold the door for any other person, we all say hi to any person we pass… Did anyone notice all the BLM rioting is in Democrat cities? And in the North? BECAUSE that is where the racism is most pronounced, where the Democrats do their thing. Atlanta had some rioting – protesting, but otherwise not much in the South. Mobile, Tampa, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, New Orleans, Montgomery, Jackson, Birmingham, Shreveport, Miami, Orlando, Dallas- Ft Worth, Houston (a bit), Memphis, Nashville, Greenville, Charlotte, Savanna, Little Rock, San Antonio…. Republican places just do not have the hatred and hopelessness. ..

“Republican party” is not just about being nasty. It’s about holding on to an idea of a nation that until recently was widely accepted. Or is that naïve? Is it also about *a dislike, a fear, of people of colour?”

*Seems like you are describing Democrat places, judging by the last year.

“Don’t give up, in other words. Not on the Republicans. Not on America. Not on democracy.” We won’t, we cannot, or the Democrats will finish the job they have begun and destroy the nation.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It may be a consolation for you to know that this man is as ignorant of his own country as he is of yours: Apart from a taxi to Heathrow Airport he does not step outside of the North London dinner party circuit.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Webb truly writes garbaldy-gook. Not to mention the odd and largely wrong observations of the writers he is reviewing. What the heck does, ‘maybe the Republicans will recognize democracy’ mean? Such nonsensical ideas.

Lesley Keay
Lesley Keay
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thank you for clearly articulating my own views on this very biased article. The representation of “deranged” Republican supporters could just as equally apply to many of the extreme left-wing supporters of the Democrats. And you are absolutely spot-on to call out the bias of the NYT et al.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Your first “quote” is a misquote, and in any case it comes from the books Webb is referring to, not from him. His is an honest account of a British person of (presumably) liberal views but open minded saying what he sees and engaging with analysis about it. The Right wing hostility was and is real.

As so often on here, extremely committed partisan commentators such as your good self loathe this sort of thing, however fair minded the person is who is not of your tribe in grappling with the issues. You don’t have to agree with him, but you could do better than act as a living embodiment of the very attitudes and outlooks he finds troubling!

As you know the party ideologies and voting bases have enormously changed over the last 150 years, so your comment about the Ku Klux Klan and the Democrats has no relevance today. The Southern White voting block has largely moved to the Republicans.

The Republicans were largely responsible over a number of decades for initiating the culture wars, weaponising such issues like gun control (the Constitution refers to a ‘well regulated militia’, not that everyone is allowed to have a few semi-automatic assault rifles in their cupboard!) and abortion. We had the shock jocks phenomenon, very extreme anti liberal points of view propagated without much attention to facts. But most egregiously, the outrageous’ birther’ movement, demonising and degitimising Obama, which as well as actually being racist in the good old fashioned way, nothing to do with critical theory, set the whole sorry story of losers not consenting to election results.

None of this means I think the Democrats blameless, they are now utterly implicated in the dysfunction. I agree that allowing the destructive rioting to carry on for months was a disgrace. (Although Trump didn’t do too much to stop it). But your endless extreme comments on here simply fuel the polarisation. Ultimately, the young and the cities are overwhelmingly Democrat, many of them will have major issues with Antifa and BLM, but if the alternative is ‘spittle-flecked’ Pro Trumpers like yourself, they will go that way.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“The Republicans were largely responsible over a number of decades for initiating the culture wars, ”
Really? To this outsider, someone who doesn’t have a dog in this fight, you seem every bit as partisan as those you criticise.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry Needham
hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Having read previous, recent scribblings of Mr Webb I have increasingly wondered what the heck he did in the US, where did he hang out, who did he hang out with? I have travelled extensively across the South/Deep South, and I agree with you. No place is perfect but I cannot wait to be able to return to the Deep South where I have, almost without exception, been welcomed, helped, had genuine interest taken in me by everyone whatever their race or station in life.
Justin Webb is now a fully assimilated BeeBiod, part of the BBC Collective. He is introduced in this piece as,” Justin Webb presents Radio 4’s Today programme”.. as if that is a badge of unquestionable merit!
After 4 decades of waking up to the Today programme I largely gave up on it 3-4 years ago, as have many of my friends.I want to be informed about events but i do not want to receive news of the World as the BBC wants me to see it! I want news & information, not opinion and activism…. i can make my own mind up.
Justin, is right-on the BBC message, incapable now of raising himself above the group think, wokish, overly PC dictates of the BBC… and its eternal cyclical agenda of bash Trump, dangerous racial stirring, transphobia, mental health, “Brexit was a mistake you idiots”, anti-Christian sentiment, and bl–dy climate change. On the Today Programme every day is the end of the world but everyday the sun still rises in the East where i live!
About 18 months ago I came across a short mission statement at the bottom of an on-line BBC page it read, ” we want to change your perceptions” … that is creepy, what they, the BBC types mean is- you must think as we think you should think.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

Now perhaps American contributors to this site can understand why it is only a poll tax enforced by the criminal law, that keeps the likes of Justin Webb and his colleagues in their well paid jobs.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

No joke. This is so inaccurate, not to mention biased & prejudicial.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I think that American contributors would wonder why you’re using their situation to forward your own agenda.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Perhaps some of my fellow Yanks do. To me, Terry Needham’s point seems part-and-parcel of the revolt against the elites that is occurring on both sides of the Pond.

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 years ago

“Dissent suggests that Kavanaugh, this unappetising privileged man, party animal who was accused (though never in court) of being a rapist, was somehow emblematic of a Republican party that had lost its bearings.”
Unappetising? Privileged? Party animal? Rapist? Anything else you’d care to add just to drive the point home? In fact, the Kavanaugh hearings were themselves emblematic – of a Democratic party that has lost its bearings and that can no longer engage in meaningful political debate with conservative thinkers.
The Left – both in the US and in the UK – has straitjacketed itself inside a moral framework that is so narrow that debating the pros and cons of concrete policy proposals (should minors be allowed to make irreversible changes to their own bodies?) is simply no longer an option. Hence the smearing and vilification, which to non-partisan bystanders comes across as unwarranted and – dare I say it – unappetising.   

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

What makes the author assume BBC coverage is “factual and balanced” while “right wing” sites are not? Whatever it is, THAT’S the thing that’s driving more and more people to the centre and the right. For the benefit of the chattering classes, the general public at large do not assume that the rejection of liberal values constitutes some kind of perversion.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Nothing wrong with liberal values. Today’s left is not liberal, they are the opposite.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

There are none so blind… The Democrats have the desire to pack the Supreme Court, to remove the filibuster, to censor political rivals, to spy on journalists, to apply a two-tier justice system picking and choosing who to prosecute based on political affiliation, to remove voting safeguards, to use riots an intimidation as political weapons, to manufacture fake smears against not just politicians but also judges, to use back-channel emails to avoid FOIA, and yet Mr Webb thinks the Republicans are the ones being anti-democratic…

Ernesto Garza
Ernesto Garza
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

You got most of it. The modern Democrat Party is a clear threat to the Constitutional Republic established in 1776.
They are interested only in getting and keeping one party rule. The worst: They inflame old racial tensions for their own political power.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ernesto Garza
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

You forgot collude with Big Tech to censor freedom of speech. The Democratic government is openly boasting about this now, as though going against the US constitution is a noble thing.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

This article shows how out of touch the BBC is.

No journalist should write this.

“ Dissent suggests that Kavanaugh, this unappetising privileged man, party animal who was accused (though never in court) of attempting rape, was somehow emblematic of a Republican party that had lost its bearings”

A real journalist should write that Kavanaugh was falsely accused for clearly partisan reasons. Biden was also more credibly accused of being a sexual predator during the election but the reaction from most of the media was more subdued to say the least.

With regards to Kavanaugh the accusation was about a party he attended when he was a teen, if he had any other transgressions in his life with regards to women they would have been brought up in the hearings, the opposite was true – his female work colleagues backed him. The accusations about Biden, while hardly very substantial either, were throughout his life.

(I understand that American, or Americanised , partisans of the right won’t like the latter statement about the insubstantiality claim but that’s part of the problem.)

The fact is the two party system in the US has led to a belligerent hostility with no end in sight. There’s no other democracy i can think of where hearings for a Supreme Court position would descend into the clown show that was the Senate judiciary committee that time.

If the BBC wants calls for its defunding to disabate it might want to stop being a partisan representative for a crazy party (one of two) in a different country. What ever happened to the good old British sneer at all things American.

In the meantime #defundthebbc

Cat Fan
Cat Fan
2 years ago

Bingo. The witch hunt against Kavanaugh was unbelievable. The entire thing was a complete spectacle, remember the gang rape accusations by Julie Swetnick guided by the Michael Avenatti? The media went completely crazy over this Avenatti (representing Stormy Daniels as well) and apparently he considered a 2020 run himself. He has since been found guilty of extortion, he might still be serving a sentence.
And you are completely right, the circus surrounding Kavanaugh, from the wild stories, to the reaction to him defending himself (he is too angry to be a Supreme Court judge! look at him defend himself when he is accused of rape!) provided a huge contrast to the media reaction when Tara Reade came forth with her claims against Biden.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

Republicans are becoming more radicalized! Ignore the burning, rioting and violence you saw earlier and decades of America’s political elite expressing distain for the “peasants.”

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 years ago

Viewing the USA’s politics from the UK it seems to me that it is the Democrats who have abandoned democracy, shown in the complete inability of both the Democrat Party and the media to cope with Trump’s presidency. Although there are issues with the Republicans they seem far saner, grounded and democratic than their rivals.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

This is a well-written and interesting piece but I don’t buy the notion that the Republicans have been radicalized.
Sure, the Republicans include a radical element, the craziest of which were Sarah Palin supporters. But most Republicans nowadays are ordinary, working class folks trying to claw back some of the ground they lost over the past forty years under globalization promoted by both parties although I’d lay most of the blame for that at the Democrats’ door.
The article is essentially a review of two recent books by staff writers at the New York Times and The Atlantic; the first a hyper-liberal publication, the second merely liberal. These books were never going to provide an impartial analysis of recent trends in the Republican party.
And so far as the suggestion goes in the Sawyer book that the Democrats should double down on their achievements and not even bother with attempting to unify the nation, what does Sawyer think progressive politics is? If someone wants to write an article on political radicalization look no further than BLM and their ilk.
At the end of this article, Mr. Webb optimistically concludes “ultimately the Republicans will return to democracy. And the Democrats, under Biden, will keep to a moderate path.” I certainly hope some sort of political and social reconciliation occurs in America, but I do object to the suggestion that the Republicans, as a whole, have strayed from democracy. They haven’t. Even in their more extreme moments they’re more democratic than their political opponents.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The real question is not why the Republican base abandoned the elites of the party and their vision, but rather why they remained loyal to them for so long and what it was that finally caused them to break with them. Job security and the ability to have the money to look after your family tends to outweight everything, even identitarian questions for most people. So previously they had, especially under Nixon and Reagan offered a kind of security and prosperity for the average person. Even under Bush Jr. where the seeds were sown and things started crumbling there were jobs. Personally I think the sub-prime crisis was the principle cause of the break, where many of the elites of the party didn’t notice its permanent effects on the downstream economy because the recovery was heavily weighted in their favour as it was for all elites. It is easy to paper-over failures in the culture wars if you are bringing jobs and security… fail to bring that and the whole edifice comes crumbling down.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

In 2008 I, still a Democrat, excitedly voted for Obama. By 2010 I had formally left the D party for the Libertarians due to that man being the worst president of my life, a life that includes Nixon and Carter. And I am not the only American to have noticed this. The Dems have moved further to the left that the Reps have moved to the right by any metric: https://theweek.com/democrats/1002266/democrats-have-moved-further-left-than-republicans-have-moved-right-statistical
And we on the left coast are seeing this play out in real-time with the destruction of our cities, the totalitarian response to Covid, news media becoming groupthink, and so on. Indeed, much of your piece uses innuendo to try and make its case, seldom resorting to facts. And for the best example of this, your comments re Brett Kavanaugh.
I am starting to think people, Republicans, such as the women you decided not to quote then, were right all along, but simply couldn’t quite put their finger on what the problem was. And so they used invective to express their fears.
Around the world, there has been an outbreak of populism. Brexit, the Yellow Jackets, Bolsinaro, Modi in India, AfD in Germany, the examples are countless. To simply say that Trump is the bad one, is to simply cover one’s eyes and not look at the failures of the worldwide left, which the Democrats are a prime example of here in the States.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

You were doing quite well till you tried to equate Brexit with “populism”.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

How is it not? In my eyes, it is the will of the population, as shown by popular vote to go ahead with leaving the EU, and abandoned so-called experts who want to keep GB in the trading block.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

I’ve upvoted you because you’re essentially correct, but if you think the EU was merely a trading bloc with no greater ambitions, I’ve got a defunct Soviet Union to sell you.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

Oh, I know it is more than a trading block, but that was how it was sold to voters.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

Fair enough.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

Populism isn’t necessarily bad, although it can be tapped into for cynical purposes.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

I have an old friend – an avowed Marxist – who is a university professor in England (I’m not sure where and I don’t really care). I think he wrote this. I become skeptical of an author’s commitment to sound reasoning and objectivity when I read things like “Republicans [are] willfully closed off from balanced, factual coverage and unpersuadable” or “[the Republicans] I met that day were energised by the thought of a Sarah Palin presidency. And by an irrational hatred of Obama: not Obama dislike but Obama phobia” or “Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters”. It is fairly obvious that those are the activist judgments of someone who has a great deal invested emotionally in the caricatures he creates of his adversaries. It’s how he justifies the righteous tone and the monstrously facile commentary. There is no need for nuance when your opponent is a hillbilly, right? I don’t know who the author is but I like him. Every time I read one of his pieces I feel smarter than I probably am.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mikey Mike
Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

A second point to note is that the radicalisation of normal people and the emergence of anti-establishment politics happened in a lot of developed countries. It was not just a US reaction. So to isolate it to single countries or single instances is to miss the huge level of pent-up distrust that released post 2008. From Podemos in Spain, 5-Star in Italy, UKIP in the UK, the collapse of Holland’s party in France – the reaction was much more widespread than the US and broke left and right.
2007/8 exposed a huge sense of powerlessness against the compact of corporate-political-administrative interests: wars created without popular demand; bailouts with public money but no cost to perpetrators; global games vs local interests; the political job-merry-go-round from politics to think-tank to academic to consultant. Normally these injustices are a recruiting ground for the left, but by then statist leftwing parties had been fully co-opted into the system.
To counteract the new radicalism, popular movements were labelled as racist or xenophobic. While they did sweep up old nasty right into these new movements, it’s a mistake to see it as a fundamental driver. If the old left woke up, they might identify how they have been diverted and used.
Currently there are huge questions floating around over establishment institutions and whether we still have the ability to manage these democratically. It feels like they see themselves controlling citizens, rather than being controlled by citizens.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago

One-sided drivel

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Author seems to have stuck by his mother’s fixed, or as he puts it, “firm”, view of Republicans.
Most normal people are not relentlessly political. If most people you know are relentlessly political, then might I suggest you are not mixing with normal people and will be doomed to getting the mood of the nation wrong, again.
Normal people are becoming less tribal, less party-loyal.
They do not go to rallies. In elections and referendums, they vote for the least-worst option. And I doubt very much that they saw Trump, for all his faults, as “authoritarian” , but then I don’t live in the USA.

Dean Ethridge
Dean Ethridge
2 years ago

It’s obvious that this BBC alum has no understanding of the cultural/political forces now playing out in the U.S. It’s tempting to call him “worse than useless”; but I’m willing to settle for simply “useless”. I lack the motivation to try to explain his cluelessness. To illustrate his “capture” by the circles he runs in, take this quote from him:
“I am not entirely sure that the nation can take the kind of punishment Adam Serwer has in mind . . .”
Not “entirely sure” . . . but it MIGHT be worth a try. After all, SOMETHING must be done to counteract these “wrongthinkers”.
His focus is on radicalization of Republicans, without a hint of understanding that Democrats have clearly been radicalized since the 1960s. It’s a relatively short study in history. He should study it.
People like Webb (and most Republican politicians) implicitly assume that cultural/political damage is not cumulative. They assume it can be “remediated” with another election somewhere down the road. But it does accumulate and it eventually destroys governance. Even a cursory study of the history of nations makes this clear.
Here’s the pity: Webb is self-consciously trying to be “balanced”. He has no idea how insulting and irrelevant his “analysis” is to everyone but his circle of ‘media elites’.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago

BBC-bred rubbish.

F Mcallister
F Mcallister
2 years ago

Ideologically, today’s GOP are where the 1990’s Bill Clinton era, Democrats were at. In other words the GOP haven’t moved to the radical right, it’s the Democrats who have moved to the Far Left. Still, you’d never have a critique, or even a mention of that from the biased Liberal, partisan hacks of The Atlantic or the BBC.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
2 years ago

I regard it as good news when I learn my enemies have no insight into how *their* enemies really think, and clearly Justin Webb has no idea. And the notion the authoritarian left in the US are on a ‘moderate path’ & are the guardians of the guttering flame of democracy is thigh-slappingly funny, given their well known talents for electoral necromancy, but then his view of the USA (& indeed UK) really are just boilerplate BBC.

Nicolas Jouan
Nicolas Jouan
2 years ago

Rabid partisanship and de-humanisation of the opposition is a very well shared feature on the right and left. The radicalisation of the Republican grassroot is largely a response to the radicalisation of the Democrats, who in turn respond with even more extreme positions. Some may have forgotten Joe Biden’s telling to an audience of black Americans that Mitt Romney would “put y’all back in chains” during the 2012 campaign. He knew perfectly what he was doing.

Stephen Rose
Stephen Rose
2 years ago

Well Mr Webb, which Hugh Grant impression were you doing when you wrote this? So many memorable roles, maybe the conceited actor, from North London, trying to kidnap Paddington, in Paddington2
This must be one of the most shameful assignations of a people and a party, I’ve read in some while. If I listened to the today program, I’d stop, but I did some years ago, because of patronising people like you.

Graeme Archer
Graeme Archer
2 years ago

This is a terrible article. The smear of Kavanaugh – essentially called a rapist – and the smear of Trump voters (apparently on the same spectrum as those who once lynched black people; that ‘is the point’) is too much.

Last edited 2 years ago by Graeme Archer
Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
2 years ago

I gave up after the first few paragraphs. I idea that the BBC is objective or impartial in US politics is laughable. Since at least the days of Reagan the thrust has been of a ‘nasty’ Republican party and the kind, gentle Democrats.
I’m one who believes the Beeb does at least make an effort in UK elections (not the rest of the time) to be fair and balanced to all parties. They use the USA as a proxy for their real contempt for the Tories.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
2 years ago

“oddnesses”, what an earth is that ? “Oddities” surely ?

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Yes, indeed, that also struck me as odd.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

Might we assume that the author is a bit hazy on the idea of the presumption of innocence applying also to people he doesn’t like?

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

The time to wake up as a reporter was then, 25+ years ago, rather than in pre-retirement confessionals (‘Unherd’, of all places).

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Tom Dalton
Tom Dalton
2 years ago

There is something foolish about relying on books penned by New York Times and The Atlantic writers to understand the past, present, or future state of the Republican Party. Of course, so would be relying on articles penned by former BBC reporters.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago

Did I miss something, or did the writer several times get “Serwer” mixed up with “Sawyer”? I went back through the article, and couldn’t find any “Sawyer”. I’ll admit that the former is a far less common name than the latter, but even so, that seems awfully sloppy of a writer.
I concur with the sentiments of those harshly criticizing the article for its unfairness and lack of objectivity. I have another objection to the use of the word “democracy” to attack Republicans. It is this: we Americans are ruled in very large part by unelected judges and bureaucrats. Both parties seem to be willing to let this continue. Until they think and act otherwise, neither can be said to be democratic in more than a very limited way.

lguaglione
lguaglione
2 years ago

Trump supporters were constantly bullied by a left-dominated culture. It is easier to understand their anger when you consider how the industries that create cultural conversations – media, news, entertainment, and academia – continue to propagate ideologies in echo-chambers that cancel any dissenting viewpoint. The manipulative tactics employed by the left (albeit unknowingly) has elicited a radical response even from moderates. I don’t think that will change until elites in these particular echo-chambers learn how to listen to half the population instead of reducing them to a fringe majority of racists and fascists.

Last edited 2 years ago by lguaglione
Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
2 years ago

Deleted

Last edited 2 years ago by Christina Dalcher
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

Rereading this biased article, I’m filled with anger at the unwarranted attacks on “democracy”. The voters elected Trump as a rebellion against the poll tested hypocrisy of the typical politician and that includes a large number of Democrat voters similar to those Republican voters who re-elected Obama. Whether the 2020 election was fair awaits more voter judgement in 2022, but the near even divide of the US democracy suggests a collapse of the Biden government related to the dissatisfaction that elected a Trump character. The US was greatly harmed via Chinese actions, intended or otherwise. Many leftest notions, like the Woke brigade, are arriving during the chaos. Once past the fear and into the anger of the people, the US is waking up to a nightmare created by the elected officials. We shall see what price is demanded by the public in the US and everywhere. .

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

Mr. Webb should stick to doing Hugh Grant impressions…he does not understand the US, projects offensive elitism, and the two books he cites are bilge. My Quaker forbears have been here since they obtained a proprietorship, and although eventually Southern-based, they were instrumental in founding the Whig party (antecedent of the Republican party) so he touched a few nerves here with his misapprehensions…Webb glibly misapplies contemporary British interpretations on a far deeper and historically more complex situation. I wonder if this represents some particular persuasion in the UK — I’ve often had the same sense of disorientation when reading about the USA in the Economist.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Liz Walsh

The portrayals of the US here are often as inaccurate as those of the UK in the US. Ever so.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Will Cummings
Will Cummings
2 years ago

Sounds like it really hurt Mr Webb’s feelings when the rubes didn’t buy his phony Hugh Grant routine and pegged him for Basil Fawlty instead.

Last edited 2 years ago by Will Cummings