Donald Trump and Political Realignment

The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The 2016 presidential election will set records for outrageous remarks and insulting tweets. It also may realign the American political structure.

New York Times columnist David Brooks credits the campaign of Donald Trump with teeing up political realignment, less to satisfy ideologues and more as a desperate attempt to win the White House.

In a traditional right versus left alignment, Brooks says odds are against Trump winning over Democrat Hillary Clinton. But in a realigned political landscape, where Trump embraces a mish-mash of right wing and populist causes, Brooks speculates the New York billionaire may have a narrow path to victory.

“His only hope,” Brooks writes, “is to cast his opponents as right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture and global intervention” while “standing as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture and an America-first foreign policy.”

The notion that this is fantasy was shattered when Britons voted to exit the European Union based on arguments not that different than the ones Trump intones at his American political rallies.

The chaos and economic certainty resulting from the prospective pullout from the EU may give people pause, but chances are that views have already hardened among those who feel left behind or betrayed by 21st Century America.

Brooks openly wonders whether Trump is the leader with the capability and discipline to achieve the political alignment his presidential campaign has lurched toward. “I personally doubt that Trump will be able to pull off a right-left populist coalition,” he says. “His views on women and minorities are unacceptable to nearly everybody on the left. There’s no evidence that he’s winning over many Sanders voters or down-scale progressives.”

“But where Trump fails, somebody else will succeed. And that’s where he is substantively revolutionary,” Brooks concludes. Trump has liberated Republicans from an obsequious reverence to smaller government and put them on a track to support a different kind of government that is more inward-looking. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” could be translated as “Put America First.”

It is hard to know whether Trump is a political savant who conjured this political line on his own or borrowed it from Europe’s cast of right-wing nationalist parties. Maybe it just came to him as the equivalent of a business opportunity to be exploited.

Whatever the source, Trump’s emergence has confused political pundits and confounded political elites because it doesn’t color within the lines; it creates new lines with bolder, shocking colors.

Brooks predicts the rubber will hit the road on the issue of trade. People in the upper layers of the U.S. economy see trade as good, creating consumer benefits, market efficiencies and new-age jobs in fields such as logistics. People in lower layers of the economy blame trade and immigrants for job displacement, loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs and regional dislocation.

Brooks said this isn’t an abstract difference, but a tangible one, which can be seen by traveling from Pittsburgh, which is flourishing in the new economy, to Western Pennsylvania where small town storefronts are boarded up. This world reality isn’t newly exploded, but it now has been irrevocably stamped onto the political culture of America.

Clinton may win this fall because of her wider appeal and voter disgust over some of Trump’s egregious views and comments. But she and the Congress, whether still in control of Republicans or not, will face the challenge of governing outside the old political lines and within a realigned political structure.