Opinion: Our politics is no longer about policy, or even ideology

(AP)

Policy differences, ideology and even narrow-minded self-interest cannot explain the deep and growing divide in American politics. Nor can it explain the popularity of Donald Trump in some quarters. The only way to explain or understand these phenomena is to attribute it to a bone-deep cultural resentment that probably does not originate in politics, but that finds its outlet and expression in politics.

Why do I say that?

In an addendum to a Tuesday post, I noted a new Washington Post poll asking voters whether they support bombing the Syrian government as punishment for the use of chemical weapons. The same pollsters asked that same question in 2013, when it was President Obama, not President Trump, who was wrestling with the question of how to how to respond to Syrian use of chemical weapons. In short, we’ve got almost identical situations with almost identical policies at issue, and the only major variable is which party holds the White House. It’s an almost perfect political-science experiment.

And the results?

As you can see, the wariness of Democrats is consistent across the board, regardless of who is in power. Among Republicans, however, the difference is stark. Just 22 percent supported the policy when it was proposed by Obama four years ago, but that support jumps almost four-fold when it is proposed by a Republican. In short, support or opposition has almost nothing to do with the actual merits of the policy.

That finding dovetails nicely with the results of YouGov polling that I’ve cited here before. In July 2014, before the emergence of Donald Trump, YouGov pollsters asked voters for their impressions of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. They asked that same question again in December 2016, after Trump had been elected president and after the announcement by U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin had tried to assist Trump in the election.

Here’s what they found:

In 2014, both Democrats and Republicans had deeply unfavorable impressions of the Russian leader, with the disfavor particularly strong among Republicans. That wasn’t a surprise, given the generally more hawkish, anti-Russian attitude that is traditional within the GOP. At the time, given what I know of history, I would have thought GOP opposition to Putin to be implacable.

Yet once Trump emerged on the scene, eager to embrace Putin, Republican attitudes changed dramatically. In a matter of 29 months, the percentage of Republicans with a deeply unfavorable impression of Putin fell from a majority of 51 percent to a tiny minority of 14 percent, or roughly John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the staffs of the Weekly Standard and National Review.

Putin didn’t change between 2014 and 2016. He didn’t cure cancer or become America’s friend or win that season’s “Dancing with the Stars” contest. Instead, a lot of Republicans decided that if the price of beating the hated Democrats was to find some previously unseen virtue in Putin, then they would pay that price. That’s how deep the resentment runs, and how much power it has to alter perceived reality. I never would have thought it possible.

We can find a lot of answers here, to conundrums large and small. Republicans who were outraged that Obama played golf and took his family on trips at public expense are now silent when Trump is on schedule to spend more on travel in his first year than Obama did in his full eight years. They simply don’t feel the resentment when Trump does it.

When you ask why not a single Republican supported passage of Obamacare, even though it was basically a conservative policy pioneered by conservative leaders that was adopted by Obama in hopes of luring conservative support, I refer you to the charts above. No policy, no matter how conservative, would have sufficed to win conservative support, because it was never about policy in the first place. It was about saying no to whatever liberals wanted, no to all these changes going on around them.

When you ask why Obama failed to enforce his “red line” in Syria, the answer is again in the charts above. When Obama asked for congressional backing for military action in 2013, Republicans refused, even though Bashar al Assad’s chemical-weapons attacks at that time far exceeded the scale of the recent attack. If Obama was for it, Republicans had to be against it, regardless of its merits.

It also explains how Trump was able to tramp all over traditional conservative ideology in the primaries and still emerge victorious. He understood when no else did that loyalty to that ideology was an inch deep among the GOP base, and that the true unifying force was resentment. Even now, with the incompetence of the Trump administration on full display, and after a clear betrayal of his anti-elitist campaign promises, he retains significant conservative support based on his unrivaled ability to outrage liberals. He is proving once again that people will vote even against their own self-interest as long as their resentments are validated and appeased.

And on and on it goes. When you marvel at Republican inability to formulate coherent policy on health care, on Syria and the Middle East or any other issue, I again refer you to the charts above. For decades now, the centerpole of conservative thought has been to oppose liberal thought. As a result, when put in a position to enact policies of their own, they have none. It’s like a drunk who has spent all night leaning against a lamppost for support. Take away the lamppost, and he collapses.

And again, the true source of that resentment isn’t political in the first place, which also means it cannot be addressed through politics. Its inspirations are demographic, generational, economic, technological and religious. It is also a reaction against a media culture that conservatives find increasingly antagonistic and dismissive, and often, I’ll admit, for very good reason.

Yet for the most part, all of those things are and ought to be well outside the control of government. In fact, the irony is that a government that is powerful and intrusive enough to alter such trends would contradict everything that the “small-government” Republicans have claimed until now to support.

I’m hopeful that too won’t change, but on some days I do have my doubts.

Reader Comments 3

1684 comments
Stephanie Green
Stephanie Green

But, hey, Good thing we have millions of Radical Christians to guard walmart bathrooms with an AK47 checking crotches for their manhood.

Lee Griffith
Lee Griffith

Writers like you have been fanning the flames since the election! He won! Instead of accepting it and uniting, the democrats decided to protest and and not accept it, and the media has been there to stir it up!

Teddy Murphy
Teddy Murphy

What's the point of uniting just because the republicans say so?

Arden Jones
Arden Jones

lol. Trump spent YEARS insulting our president. He deserves every single bad thing that comes upon him.

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

He was appointed popular vote don't count in americas election.

Scott Cantrell
Scott Cantrell

"You lie!" ~ Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). Ya know...we do remember.

Yvonne M. Reed
Yvonne M. Reed

You mean like the repubs did to President Obama? I am still amazed at how quickly we forgot 8 years of willful obstruction and how we are suppose to just accept the travesty that is now in office. Hell no Lee, that will not happen as long as my fingers are on the keyboard.

Shelly Williams Kuras
Shelly Williams Kuras

Did you read Mr. Bookman's full piece? He has a valid point and it's not "fanning the flames" to cite facts and figures. "People will vote even against their own self-interest as long as their resentments are validated and appeased." Perhaps you should examine your own resentments.

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

Drip, drip, drip


Paul Manafort's daughters had concerns over dad's 'blood money'


Yanukovych, who's closely connected to President Vladimir Putin, has been hiding in Russia since he fled his home country after his ouster on Feb. 22, 2014. He remains wanted on charges of high treason.  In another text to her sister, Andrea Manafort supposedly claimed that their father was behind the "strategy" that Yanukovych allegedly implemented in order to have his security forces kill dozens of protesters in Kiev's Independence Square.  "Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered," Andrea Manafort supposedly wrote to her sister, referring to their father.

Andrea Manafort apparently told her sister that their father "knowingly" had people killed. (FACEBOOK)  "He has no moral or legal compass," she added.

"I was there when it happened. I saw him on his shady email," she allegedly texted. "They don't write emails. They log on and write in the drafts So it's never transmitted over any servers."


gotalife
gotalife

I doubt he will fire bannon and will go back to populist lies for reelection.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@gotalife


He will not fire Bannon but reduce his influence. Eventually Bannon will leave. Establishment and the fringe at it again. 

rimsky
rimsky

@StraightNoChaser I will only consume them if only if they are very well cooked like a stew or something.

HDB0329
HDB0329

......off-topic....

......now that Jeff Sessions have cut the cops loose without oversight by the Justice Department, cops are stomping black folk in Gwinnett and Columbus, Ohio....

....this is what the supporters of the Orange One have been clamoring for...back to the 50s we go....next thing...the dogs are being let out.....

gotalife
gotalife

@HDB0329 Back in the day, they would beat you at the police station. Been there done that.

KUTGF
KUTGF

@HDB0329 If you cannot depend upon civilian government to control the overzealous and lying police in their departments and to protect citizens, it destroys years of community relationships and will Harm law enforcement in the future. 

HDB0329
HDB0329

@DownInAlbany ...not necessarily....they probably monitored the same type of communications that the CIA and FBI did......

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@DownInAlbany  Going with the headline without reading the article I see - SSDD. 

It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.

Five Eyes hoovers up huge amounts of SigInt - GCHQ shares that information with the NSA. 

KUTGF
KUTGF

@DownInAlbany You do have the precise tweet that establishes that Trump claimed the brits "spied" on him...right sweetie.  Go ahead.  Prove it.

KUTGF
KUTGF

@PaulinNH @DownInAlbany You really can't blame DIA..he does not have the capacity to post intelligently.  He can only rant against Hillary and post foolish nonsense

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@DownInAlbany @PaulinNH  To paraphrase Denzel, let me explain it to you like you are a 4 year old. 

The Five Eyes monitor all sorts of communications of foreigners. 

Among these are Russians. 

They found lots and lots of communications between Russians and people associated with the Trump campaign. 

The British part (GCHQ) passed this information on to the CIA and NSA. 

Peachs
Peachs

Hilley has left the building,no criminal record,yesterday's news. Very dull stuff, when you have The Godfather of Russian love, wearing out the mattresses at the White Hotel!!

rimsky
rimsky

Off topic:

Today I learnt to my dismay about sorry afairs of high schools in my town.  The kids with excellent grades have gone to G Tech with high hopes of being doctors and engineers.  Within a year and two these kids have gave up on their majors and now studying business adminstration or Finance.  Somehow their HS grades do not reflect their capabilities.  

Janice Hudson
Janice Hudson

WATCHING THE NEWS ON POLITICS IS LOOKING MORE & MORE LIKE SEEING A 'SMASH & GRAB', STREET GANG. THEY SNEAK IN AT NIGHT AND STILL YOUR VALUABLE FORM OF TRANSPORTATION, {YOUR VOTING RIGHTS}! SLAM IT INTO A WORKING COMPANY, STEAL IT'S VALUABLE  ASSETS & THEN RUN & HIDE!!!! WE MUST ALL PRAY, {YOUR CHOSEN WAY}, FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA!!!!

Kamchak
Kamchak

@FIGMO2

If we're gonna fight ISIS, better to do so in Iraq.

And there's your sign.

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