I have just about finished reading The Revolt of the Public. It is an important book, but not easy to digest. I give Virginia Postrel a lot of credit for boiling it down fairly well, but there is more to it than fit in her write-up.
Back in the 1990s, a lot of people tried to forecast the impact of the Internet on politics. Libertarians thought that it would lead to a more libertarian world. Social democrats thought it would lead to a more social democratic world. I don’t recall any conservative prognostications.
Gurri says it could lead to a more nihilistic world, one in which newly-empowered outsiders tear down elite control structures but are then left with the question, “Now what?”
Gurri says that elite insiders have difficulty coming to terms with the revolutionary implications of the new communications environment. Cue Ross Douthat, trying to explain why he did not foresee the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Now if I wanted to avoid giving Trump his due, I could claim that I didn’t underestimate him, I misread everyone else — from the voters supporting him despite his demagoguery to the right-wing entertainers willing to forgive his ideological deviations.
In fact, I lean toward that view. There was a market niche available, and Trump happened to fill it. Some of it reflects his individual skill, but I am not inclined to put too much emphasis on that.
The point about “right-wing entertainers” is well taken. For years, conservative talk radio personalities have railed against “RINO’s” (Republicans in Name Only) and claimed that if the Republicans stopped nominating me-too candidates and instead ran a real conservative for President they would win. The way that I look at it, anyone who really believed in the need for Republicans to nominate someone reliably conservative would prefer almost any Republican candidate in the race other than Trump. (I am hardly alone in that view.) But it seems that the talk radio hosts are happy to toss prior convictions out the window in order to excite their listeners.
I keep going back to the 1960s. In 1964, Barry Goldwater was nominated by an insurgency, and he got crushed. I think that in 2016 the insurgent candidate with the highest chance of getting the nomination (and I put his chances at well under 50 percent) is not Donald Trump, but Bernie Sanders. And I think that if Sanders is nominated, then he will get crushed.
In any case, Gurri provides the best analytical framework I have come across for understanding current politics, both here and in other countries. Ross Douthat should give it a read.