Donald Trump’s election felt like a revolutionary act and love him or hate him, his first year in office has rewritten the rules of the political game. That’s why it’s surprising how little political thinking seems to have shifted. There are some big lessons we can learn from Trump’s first year in office.
1) Conservatives Have Lost Faith That Good Behavior Will Be Rewarded: There was a time when conservatives took great pride in being the sort of people who wouldn’t tolerate a Ted Kennedy, Marion Barry or William Jefferson in their ranks. However, eventually conservatives have started asking a basic question: How does this benefit us? Do we get credit from the American people for being more moral than liberals? Is this helping us to succeed? What’s the pragmatic value of doing the right thing beyond feeling superior to the Left? When conservatives concluded there was no practical value to having high standards, standards declined. A lot. In a hurry. Is that a good thing? No, but when you create a situation where virtue is no longer rewarded, you can’t expect virtuous people to slam their heads into a wall forever.
2) Conservatives Have Lost Faith In The Old Guard Institutions And Personalities: The attitude seems to be, “What good did all these talk radio hosts, conservative websites and columnists do? Did the country move to the Right under Bush? Did conservatives stop it from moving Left under Obama? Our nation is going down the tubes and what you’re doing isn’t working!” Do I think that’s entirely fair? No. There are a lot of conservatives who have pushed the right approach, but getting rid of people like McCain and McConnell is hard and getting them to put the country first is nearly impossible. At the end of the day though, if there are no results, people will take that Al Davis attitude and say, “Just win, baby” and they won’t be all that particular about how it gets done.
3) We Are More Tribal Than Ever; So We Need To Have The Biggest Tribe: In the Trump era, every story is treated completely differently based on who’s involved. What’s shrugged off or treated as a scandal depends almost entirely on whether you’re talking about Moore or Franken, Trump or Hillary. This is not a good thing for the country, but it is what it is and there’s an important lesson. If everything is tribal, it’s essential that conservatives hold everyone in the tribe that we have and expand our ranks. Policy should even be thought of in those terms. Does that help the people that are allied with us? Can we use this policy to bring new people into our tribe? This also means gridlock is going to be the order of the day because when everything is tribal, cooperating with the other side gets you nothing but grief from everyone involved. Again, not saying this is good, but you have to live with the world as it is, not as you would wish it to be when it regains its sanity.
#4) Train Wrecks Sell: One of the biggest reasons Trump won the primary and the general election was that he absolutely dominated the nightly news on a day in, day out basis. Sometimes it was because of good things he said. Other times it was because he made news in a bad way. In any case, you could be sure that he’d always be in the news and that whatever it was for, it wouldn’t be boring. This has bled down to the grassroots level. There used to be an assumption amongst conservatives that you need to be smart, interesting and have some kind of principles to make a name for yourself in politics. All that has now been replaced by just being “interesting.” “Interesting” can mean pumping out conspiracy theories, being extremely offensive, being an outright propagandist, wildly speculating about things you can’t prove or just fighting with liberals. Say something mind numbingly stupid that’s gets the attention of a lot of liberals and by the end of the day, you may have another few thousand twitter followers. Get enough twitter followers and you’re treated as important, whether you spend your time pushing laughably bad news stories or picking fights with Leslie Jones. Does this make politics more exciting? Probably. Does it also make it dumber, more toxic and less principled? Absolutely.
5) The Mainstream Media Has Lost All Credibility With Much Of The Population: Most politicians live by that old Mark Twain quote, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” That made sense back when the mainstream media had more credibility. Today, saying that CNN, MSNBC, the WAPO or the New York Times said it means large numbers of people will assume it’s a lie. Mainstream media outlets traded their “all the news that’s fit to print” reputation to be partisan players. What they forgot is that nobody on the other side believes partisans, which is why Trump can go toe-to-toe with them on a daily basis and survive.
6) The Presidential Soapbox Matters More Than Ever: In a world where congressional gridlock has become the new norm, the presidential soapbox has become more important than ever. Realistically, Trump is not going to have a lot of legislative victories; so using the soapbox to stick it to the NFL for disrespecting the flag or helping Republicans to get rid of bad actors like Jeff Flake helps give people a sense that he’s doing something important. Guess what? He is. For example, by taking on the NFL he sent a loud and clear message to corporations all across America. Every one of them is looking at the mess the NFL is in and thinking, “Thank goodness we’re not in that situation. We’ve always been careful about offending liberals, but I guess we better make sure we don’t upset conservatives either.” Reagan understood the importance of the presidential soapbox, but Republicans seemed to have forgotten that lesson until Trump got into office.
#7) The Republican Establishment is Hopeless and Must Be Replaced: If Trump’s election didn’t wake up the GOP establishment, then it’s hard to know what could possibly do it. The very fact that the Republicans didn’t even make a good faith effort to get rid of Obamacare after railing against it non-stop for years tells you it’s time to give up on them. They’re never going to change. What that means is that we have to get McConnell, Ryan, McCain, Flake, Corker, Graham, Alexander, Heller, Portman, Murkowski, Capito, Collins, etc. out of office if we want to save the country. These are people who will fiddle while America burns and laugh at how dumb anyone was to have ever trusted them as they stand in the ashes.
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