The cast is set for the 2020 election. Democrats have settled on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as their candidates for president and vice president, respectively.
The irony of the race is although Donald Trump is the incumbent in the race, he still represents an outside force running against the popular ruling sentiment of the time.
Biden’s campaign represents a return to government run by technocratic elites. As the incumbent, Trump represents that outside force that opposes a furthering of a class of technocrats representing and running all aspects of society. The theme of 2016, from Trump to Brexit, was a return of power to people and communities, and a rejection of world populated by upper-crust elites calling the shots and determining the course for everything.
That’s not to cast all Trump’s decisions or his ruling style in a positive light. But he is the only person breaking from this form of governance. Whether from Democrats or even within the Republican Party, the opposition to Trump often represents the new aristocracy, global elites who either seek to regain power or burn down all institutions that they once held control over.
Ross Douthat made a similar observation in The New York Times, reviewing Stuart Stevens’ book It Was All A Lie. Stevens was once a Republican strategist working with Mitt Romney, John McCain, and others. In a devasting column, Douthat contends:
[T]he original sin of the strategist class wasn’t moral compromise or racial blindness but simple condescension: a belief that they didn’t need to take their own constituents seriously, that they could campaign on social issues and protecting the homeland and govern on foreign wars and Social Security reform and that it would all hang together. Which it did — until a demagogue came along who was ready to exploit the gap between promises and policy, and to point out that the Republican adults supposedly in charge of governing weren’t actually governing very well.
Trump took the social issues of the conservative right seriously. As Douthat points out, these strategists couldn’t name a single item that the Republican base believed in, on any subject. A common criticism of Trump is that he’s often mimicking what he thinks conservatives believe, leading to some bizarre tweets and stances. But even if that’s true — it’s doubly true of Stevens and the strategist class.
The Stevens book blasts everything, everyone, and every idea on the right as debased lies. It’s an apology tour of sorts. It is pitched to appeal to the MSNBC viewer who has a strange new respect for the recalcitrant Republican strategist who needs a new paycheck. Douthat says the book he’d like to read is “how their own strategic choices failed their voters — and pushed them, in the process, toward the temptation that was Trump.”
Stevens and his ilk represent the Republican Party’s version technocratic elites — content to use cultural issues to gain power but to do little that their voters want. In his book The New Class War, author Michael Lind notes, “The desire of many American voters to disrupt the quarter-century cycle of nearly identical versions of technocratic neoliberalism under alternating Bushes and Clintons is quite sufficient to explain the presidential election of 2016.”
It’s not that there aren’t differences between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals. There are. It’s that the leadership of these institutions has chosen a vision-less path in the post-Reagan, post-Cold War era that has seen stagnation in so many phases of life, from culture to politics, and beyond.
All of which brings us to the Biden campaign and the choice of Kamala Harris. Everything about Biden’s campaign is a call for a “return to normalcy.” But it’s not just any normalcy, it’s the prior technocratic order. It’s an order where the eliteness of a diploma determines whether you gain access to the new elite. If it doesn’t, you’re not allowed in and sent out like one of the proles in George Orwell’s 1984, the uneducated, unthinking masses who are nothing to the elites.
Douthat is correct, and the burn it down project is as much about trying to destroy anyone who dared scale this the walls of this edifice. If they can’t have it, no one can. There’s a total contempt of voters and ideas that runs through the entire project.
It’s different on the left since there is broad-based support for this technocratic order. But the same condescension can be found with comments like Clinton’s “deplorables” comment or Biden’s “you ain’t Black” remarks. These are little different from the Republican mindset that gives you Romney’s 47% quip.
In turn, that makes the 2020 election a race against the Trumpian mindset, which refuses to accept these technocrats, against the technocratic elites themselves. And because those same technocrats rule in so many other places, that makes Trump the outsider against them. Because the consensus in D.C. and elsewhere is toward an agreement with elite technocrats, on everything.
We’ll see what voters choose in November. But it’s worth noting the rarity of our moment, that an incumbent still represents an outsider viewpoint.