April 14, 2017


The Case for Placebo Politics (JASON WILLICK, 4/14/17, American Interest)

Last month in these pages, Tyler Cowen coined the term "placebo President" to describe the possibility that Donald Trump would largely fail to achieve the radically populist policy objectives he campaigned on but maintain the support of his white working class base by symbolically affirming their dignity and cultural status--offering his supporters "a public voice and the illusion of more control without the control itself." [...]

Educated people often imagine that politics is, or should be, a coolly rational exercise in distributing resources and regulating institutions to create the best possible outcomes for the greatest number of people. But it is not, and has never been. Contests over status and claims to representation are always lurking below the surface. As Walter Russell Mead observed during the primary, Trump's appeal flows from his pattern of behavior as much as his policy priorities. "By flouting PC norms, reducing opponents and journalists to sputtering outrage as he trashes the conventions of political discourse, and dismissing his critics with airy put-downs, he is living the life that--at least some of the time--a lot of people wish they had either the courage or the resources to live." This is at the core of Cowen's idea of a placebo presidency: telegraphing cultural solidarity with a constituency that feels belittled and disrespected, in part merely by infuriating their ostensible social adversaries.

The degree of adoration a certain kind of liberal heaped on President Obama also reflected, in part, a similar kind of placebo effect.

There are so few differences between major parties at the End of History that only the theatrics really matter in terms of pure politics.

Posted by at April 14, 2017 7:04 PM