The surprising rise of Donald Trump — not to mention Republicans' dominance, for now, of Congress — offers plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about American politics. Here, however, are six causes for optimism, from a left perspective.
I should stress — as I argued in my book "The Reactionary Mind" — that one reason the right's momentum is slowing has to do with how much ground it has gained in recent decades. If you consider its great animating energies since the New Deal — first, anti-labor; then later, anti–civil rights; and finally, anti-feminism — conservatives have achieved a considerable amount of success in either destroying or beating back these movements. So in one sense, the hopefulness you read below is built on the ruins of the left. Nevertheless:
1) An ABC News poll has Trump at 38 percent of the popular vote. It's only one poll, and I haven't been paying much attention to the polls (at this point, what's the point?), but if Trump does get 38 percent — which is about what I've been thinking he'll get — he'll be squarely within George McGovern territory. With a very few exceptions, he's rarely broken above 40 percent (in a four-way race).
No major party candidate of the past 50 years, aside from George H.W. Bush, has gotten less than 40 percent of the vote — and in Bush's case, it had a lot to do with Ross Perot. This will go down as a catastrophic defeat for the Republican Party at the presidential level. (That said, Clinton, with her 50 percent, according to ABC, won't be in Nixon territory, which was about 10 points higher.)
2) For all of Trump's bluster at the third debate about not accepting the election results, I'm confident that once it's over and the verdict is in, he and his followers will go, more or less gently, into that good night.
We on the left — perhaps liberals, too — are so used to being defeated, demoralized, and depressed, so used to losing to the right, that we have little sense that the right can suffer the same. We have little sense of the impact this election could have on the Trumpites. We believe their bullsh--: We take their sense of entitlement as a sign of deep wells of conviction, of belief in their right and authority, or perhaps even of their actual right and authority, as if this really is their country.
They have a better, more accurate sense of their dwindling political fortunes, with whites and conservatives making up a decreasing portion of the electorate — and women, people of color, and liberals making up an increasing portion. It's what gives their rhetoric its enervating rather than exhilarating character. Listen to Pat Buchanan from the 1970s through the '90s: the inventiveness of his brutality, the energy of his cruelty. There's a world of difference between the expansiveness of that revanchism and the narrow straits that is Trump's. The former speaks in pages and paragraphs, the latter in two- or three-word fragments, without any Marinetti-like patter of power.
Trump's is not the voice of confidence, of right, of command. This is not the voice of a man who can lead a rearguard revolt in the streets. This is the voice of a man —and a movement — who is tired, beaten, and demoralized, who starts sentences he can barely muster enough energy to finish.
3) Consider the decreasing half-lives of the right's various populist experiments over the past four decades. In the lead-up to Ronald Reagan's victories in the 1980s, that right-wing populism was represented by the Moral Majority. And it lasted quite a long time, in part because it skillfully fused the racism of the segregation academies issue — private, overwhelmingly white religious schools in the South created in response to desegregation — with the religiosity of school prayer and the gender politics of abortion. That brand carried the GOP all the way from Reagan into the first Bush administration.
Then it was the Christian Coalition, which had a shorter political life and considerably less success. Bill Clinton was president during much of its heyday, and its only electoral victory was the 2000 election of George W. Bush. One of the reasons for its diminution of power, relatively speaking, is that it no longer had the issues of busing and school desegregation to mobilize against the way the Christian right had in the 1970s and '80s.