As the historian in this manalyzing duo, of course I feel less responsible for the limits of the field of American Political Development, more excited about how it might help compensate for some of the foibles of historians….
Yes, the lesson of Trump is that it’s corruption all the way down, corruption as a multigenerational (American Political) tradition, yet on a spiral that makes it somewhat different each time. The grandfather was all about railroad towns and hotels (brothels), and land, exploiting his fellow immigrants. The father about urban segregation and (un)creative destruction. The grandson about the simulacrum of luxury, leveraged gloss, and televised publicity as ponzi scheme. Party politics had to be the endgame because it undergirded the possibilities of profiting from infrastructure all along.
Alas, as the trigenerational story suggests, the other continuity in the Trumpian spiral appears to be the reliance on whiteness, which is why Trump so repeatedly doubles down on it, why he seized as no one else on the notion that Obama could not have possibly been born in this country. The surprise at the daily untruth or tweet covers over the primal lie of his politics, and the willingness of 40+% of voters to accept it so as not to have to accede to the other party’s kinder gentler corruption. After all, the system constantly tells us, in a democracy, origins and history don’t matter. The question is always, which of two sides are we on?
It’s funny today to hear both the president and allies trumpeting party loyalty against (Bain capitalist) Romney, when Trump ran against party and the establishment. Only a long-term approach to American politics can capture how he has recapitulated the Jacksonian art of turning from antipartisan outsider to enforcer of more party loyalty than ever, in just a few years. Partisanship relies on, feeds on, putative outsiders, sometimes in order to contain the real insurgencies. Part of Trump’s appeal is to perform and capitalize on American ambivalence about the problems that result from the normal workings of the system. It is tempting to conclude, for the moment, that he fits all too well into institutional patterns even as he shatters norms. We’ll see — and we’ll study…..