Political Optimism in 2024

Why Trump is (probably) going to lose.

I am, on the whole, rather optimistic about 2024. Yes, we've got a pretty important election that, if it goes the wrong way, could--and I think this is the only clear-eyed and reasonable take on the matter--mean the effective end of American democracy, our basic system of liberalism replaced by what is pretty obviously a fascist movement. There's really no other serious way to characterize what Trump and Trumpism represent, and it's critical, between now and November, that we don't shy away from recognizing that fascism, even if it means uncomfortable conversations with people who, through either ignorance or corrupt values, support it.

That said, this is a bullet we are quite likely to dodge. While it's always possible for Trump to win the next election, he'd need something of a miracle. He's unpopular, the thick of his campaign (and the conspiratorial and culture war rhetoric that will inevitably be the center of it) will remind people why those don't like him, the economy is booming, and, anyway, he'll probably have a felony conviction or two. (And that's if he's even on the ballot. My money is on the Supreme Court finding a way to avoid kicking him off, but you never know.) Think of it this way: Trump lost in 2020 because a bunch of suburban white women voters turned against him. Has anything changed between then and now, or is anything likely to change over the next year, to bring them around to him again? (The prospect of a national abortion ban if the GOP gains control of the government sure isn't going to help his chances.)

And if he loses, or if he can't run, that'll not just end the risk of him becoming America's autocrat. It'll also take a lot of the wind out of the sails of right-wing populism and the cultural far-right. People who run as mini-Trumps don't tend to perform well electorally, because a lot of his appeal, to the Americans who find him and his ideas appealing, is about Trump. It turns out, thankfully, that fascist politics themselves are rather repulsive to most Americans, as are reactionary social and cultural preferences. Ours is, imperfectly, a liberal society. Trump's charisma, as some mischaracterize it, carried the day in 2016, but the potential inheritors of his movement don't just fail to achieve his "engaging" personality, but for the most part have a remarkable degree of anti-charisma. As I've argued elsewhere, being a far-right reactionary isn't so much a philosophy as it is a set of preferences and attitudes, and those preferences and attitudes tend to be concentrated among rather unlikable people.

So as not to turn this newsletter isn't an essay, I'll touch on just one more reason to think the world is getting better: It turns out that the right's culture war isn't popular. What looked like an electoral wave of wretched people with wretched ideas getting on school boards and then banning books offensive to their nonsense ideology--while going out of their way to inflict cruelty on LGBT kids--wasn't so much about Americans actually liking the right's obsession with genitals as it was parents upset about school closures. Now that school are open, and the threat of pandemic related closings behind us, Americans are reasserting their social liberalism. It hasn't been perfect, and not as fast or thorough as I'd like, but the trend is in an encouraging direction. In the end, social liberalism wins out because it is more humane, ethical, inspiring, and conducive to the sort of society most of us want to live in.

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