The Doom Loop of Trumpism

Did you read Derek Thompson’s piece last week on The Doom Loop of Modern Liberalism?  The concept may have been even more neatly summarized by Ross Douthat: “low birth rates slow growth and create a pressing need for new immigrants, which in turn feeds xenophobia and leads to a decline in support for the welfare state, which leads to stratification, further discontent and an authoritarian turn, which presumably slows growth further, etc., etc., until liberalism goes kaput.”  RTWT times two: neither piece is very long.

As both are concerned with small-l liberal democracy and the broader tension between diversity and equality, it’s worth a brief moment to look at this phenomenon through the Trumpy end of the telescope.  While “doom loop” might be an exaggeration here, it’s mostly because it’s less a loop than a fog of cognitive dissonance.

Those who promote a more nationalist/populist flavor to American politics, particularly within the GOP, feed on the downsides — real and imagined — of immigration.  And some of those concerns are bound up in an antipathy for the welfare state.

But the scope of that antipathy is not universal.  The Trumpian distaste for welfare is informed by white identity politics.  They may not like TANF or food stamps.  They are far more forgiving of the explosion in Social Security Disability Insurance, in part because they’re more likely to know someone on SSDI and in part because it is branded as Social Security.

Indeed, the core Trump vote is not only forgiving, but outright protective of Social Security itself, as well as Medicare.  They are far more likely to claim that these big entitlement programs are not welfare at all, but earned benefits, even though current beneficiaries are getting far more than they paid in taxes at the expense of future generations.

The support of Trumpists — and many other Americans, tbh — to leave entitlements unreformed runs smack into the problem declining birthrates, which is why every few years there has been a debate over whether these programs are technically Ponzi schemes, which substitutes for a debate over their stability and solvency.  As the number of people at the bottom of the pyramid shrinks relative to those at the top, we have a problem.

That problem, in turn, creates a demand for immigrants.  Such is the case even in Japan.  The Japanese think they are merely encouraging temporary guest workers, which is what many European countries thought decades ago on this same path.  The results in Europe were that immigrants stayed; they probably will in Japan and as they do in America.

Politics are ultimately about priorities and trade-offs.  Trump supporters generally want to both reduce immigration and not reform entitlements, which are demands that will inevitably conflict.  The fact that Pres. Trump and many of his supporters don’t want to study policy enough to confront this conflict doesn’t make it disappear.  Their “loop” is one of anger — at policy-makers who are choosing to shore up their benefit streams at the expense of their cultural anxieties.

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