Post Columnist Says 2016 Election Not A Fluke

Transpartisan Opening?

Transpartisan Note #65

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘liberal’ editor and columnist Eugene Robinson wrote on Sept 18, 2017 that ‘Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke.  I believe a political realignment is underway,’ and those who cannot see it ‘could end up powerless and irrelevant.’

Trump winning?  ‘That’s not just unlikely,’ Robinson says, ‘it’s impossible.  At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. . . .  None of what happened should have happened.’  Robinson continues:

[I]t is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object.  Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative . . . political axis . . . is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion.  And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either . . . [since] his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration.  But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement.  Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free-trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers.  Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens.  Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.  Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home.  Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure.  Both contended ‘the system’ was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else . . . .

‘Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises.  The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking — as is the contrast between what Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.’  Read the entire column here.

Robinson’s opinions appear in 262 newspapers and on many major television shows.  His voice, along with New York Times writer Ross Douthat’s ‘In Search of the American Center’ (NYT 6/21/17), on the non-voter (our comments here) and Post conservative Columnist Michael Gerson, who writes ‘Tribalism Triumphs in America’ (Post 8/18/17) here (we plan to comment), suggests media stirrings of a transpartisan sensibility.

Robinson says “neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.” We offer the Left/Right, Order/Freedom Transpartisan Matrix as a diagram of forces, always present in political situations, now becoming more visible.

Douthat explains what happened when New America’s Lee Drutman arrayed the Democracy Fund’s 2016 election data on a matrix with an economics horizontal axis and a social/identity vertical axis. (our comment.)  It revealed that over half the electorate, non-ideological Transpartisans, stayed home.

Gerson‘s column recognizes diversity.  He identifies fellow columnist Andrew Sullivan’s, ‘America Wasn’t Built for Humans’ as setting out our current political problem—‘. . . tribalism is our default value . . . ’

Sullivan, Gerson says, ‘urges a renewed appreciation of individuality, citing himself—a gay Catholic, conservative independent, religious secularist—as a misfit challenge to tribal conformity.  As an evangelical Christian sympathetic to gay rights,’ Gerson writes, ‘a Republican critic of Trump and a compassionate conservative, I can relate.  We need a political system that makes room for human complexity.’

Robinson sees a left/right breakdown.  Using the Matrix form, Douthat sees a departure from past elections in the absence of ideological voters (over half the electorate) in the 2016 election.  We would say they are Transpartisans.

Gerson highlights the expanding recognition of complex individuality we believe drives contemporary politics and says ‘Sullivan proposes a response to tribalism that is not structural but essentially spiritual.’  These statements begin to sketch the transpartisan reality.

We believe The Transpartisan Matrix offers one possible diagram for charting the emerging political reality that these writers are spotlighting.  Our Matrix integrates all quadrants, includes both voters and non-voters, recognizes the increasing need of people (as individuals) for self-expression while in addition (in their personal complexity) seeking community and connection, and also finally, expressing their objective wants and needs and spiritual, subjective selves.

We believe the Matrix describes the transpartisan forces that are emerging all around us.  Robinson’s and his media peers’ insights sound to us like the first, nagging awareness of a transpartisan awakening.  ‘Those who fail to discern its outlines’ Robinson notes, ‘could end up powerless and irrelevant.’

(Photo by Gage Skidmore and licensed CC-BY-SA-2.0.)

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