Wallace Loh: Liberals are not to blame for Trump’s election

A New York Times opinion writer recently argued that in an era of unfettered division and Trumpism, one of the most cherished assumptions of American political life, the liberal project, is past its expiration…

Wallace Loh: Liberals are not to blame for Trump’s election

A New York Times opinion writer recently argued that in an era of unfettered division and Trumpism, one of the most cherished assumptions of American political life, the liberal project, is past its expiration date. Jonah Goldberg maintained on his National Review blog that to show how much is at stake, we should hold a “50 State Poll.” The project was intended to measure the support for political liberalism across the United States and could be seen as an indicator of how much power has shifted. But Goldberg’s idea was to measure public opinion by surveying only states with Democratic governors. He concluded that “the liberal state project” has been a failure, at least in New York. His dismal review of the liberal project raises several other questions, as well.

The liberal project seeks to provide Americans with access to a political vision and a framework that is affordable, democratic and compelling. It seeks to shape a system that supports the social well-being of the nation’s citizens and offers people an opportunity to innovate their lives in ways that they desire. Liberal policies aim to provide access to a broader array of goods and services, which may best suit the preferences of the people most affected. And liberal policies seek to govern in a way that supports social welfare and promotes social justice for all people. The liberal project is, for most of America’s history, a success.

For liberals, economic inequality, the 1 percent and political corruption are not significant national problems. Human trafficking, gun violence and poverty are the great issues of our time. Liberality, of all political views, poses the best challenge to address the challenges and bring about positive change.

However, recent decades have seen a shift in many respects, not the least being elections.

We are not at a moment that reveals a fundamental change in how Americans perceive themselves, their politics or the American political project.

In 2016, the U.S. supported expanded police powers to further crush the so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement. It bullied political adversaries into acquiescence to a new welfare state, whose expansion was intended to be permanent, without concern for what it might do to an increasingly disadvantaged segment of the population. It supported TPP, which will create a massive transfer from blue to red states (thus the law’s status as a nullity). It rewarded the behavior of leading corporations for egregious corruption by funneling taxpayer money and creating a public sector that is mired in circular flow of money that benefits only a few individuals.

For all its faults, we were all surprised when Trump won the election. We were surprised because Hillary Clinton was universally viewed as the preferable alternative, and because she was respected. But the referendum wasn’t over who might do a better job of providing opportunity for those who are furthest behind. It was whether liberal democracy in the U.S. can survive the challenges and try to find ways to redress these inequities. The liberal project might not be a success after all.

May the experience of 2018 prove that.

Jamie Vinson (@jvardy60) is a graduate student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. You can follow him on Twitter at @jvardy60.

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