New York Times columnist Paul Krugman exemplifies the contradictions that plague the mind of an ideologue. For those whose politics also serves as a chief source of identity, the prospect of seeing their policy preferences advanced by an expanded coalition of voters is a melancholy one. As the tribe balloons, their cherished club becomes less exclusive. Often, this renders the ideologue the author of his own destruction. Electoral success can become its own enemy. Just ask Republicans watching with dread as polls forecast the likely erosion of their hard-won majorities come 2017.
Well, now it’s the left’s turn to fear diluted relevance that might result from the happy chance of Republican self-destruction. In his latest piece, Krugman advises Hillary Clinton not to appeal to disaffected center-right voters who may consider jumping ship over Donald Trump. In so doing, Krugman exposes that his frustration with Clinton’s overtures to the right isn’t political but cultural.
Krugman begins with a perfunctory nod toward the fact that Clinton, one of the Senate’s most reliably liberal members in her day, is running an unashamedly liberal campaign. Moving quickly to the meat of his gripe, the columnist says homeless rightists who might consider voting Clinton must repent and submit to their new overlord.
Republicans writ large, Krugman insists, created the conditions whereby Donald Trump could appeal to a plurality of the party’s primary voters with a message of naked racial resentment and conspiratorial blame-shifting. Therefore, Krugman appears to contend, those conservative refugees who dissent from Trumpism are to be accepted but not accommodated.
Krugman exposes to his readers a familiar form of cultural resentment. He contends that the left in America is consistently advised to move to the right, no matter whether it is on its heels or politically ascendant. “Funny how that works,” Krugman scoffed. This is the mirror image sentiment of the average Trump-backing talk radio fan who is entirely convinced that Republican majorities in Congress exist solely to coat liberal policy objectives with the veneer of bipartisan legitimacy.
“Grand coalitions do sometimes have a place in politics,” Krugman graciously concedes. That dispensation, however, only applies in his mind to grave disasters; economic calamities, attacks on the nation by a foreign power, et cetera. Outside that context, there is no room for consensus, coalition building, or compromise. “When Dr. Frankenstein finally realizes that he has created a monster, he doesn’t get rewarded,” Krugman closes. Note, please, that Donald Trump is similarly plagued by a compulsion to punish his critics who convert into allies. Unconditional surrender and the occasional public humiliation are the fates of the Republican Trump endorser, particularly those who at one point stood against him. So, too, would Krugman have it for conservatives who hold their nose and support Clinton.
What’s so bizarre about Krugman’s case is that it is entirely unnecessary. As the Times columnist’s colleague Ross Douthat has observed, Clinton has pushed all of her chips in on a strikingly liberal agenda. A remarkably centrist and patriotic Democratic National Convention had captured the attention of persuadable non-Democrats until Clinton squandered the accumulated goodwill by accepting her party’s nomination by pledging a radical new liberal direction for the nation. She has displayed no regard for the “pro-growth” spending trade-offs of which Krugman is so bizarrely contemptuous (considering Obama appears set to preside over two full terms without a single quarter approaching sustainable 3 percent GDP growth). Krugman acknowledges all this.
So what is the point? To prevent any temporary reconciliation between those of all political stripes who believe opposing Trump transcends partisanship. It is a call to excess; a demand to perpetually litigate past battles and to consign those defeated to what Edmund Burke deemed scornfully “eternal proscription and civil excommunication.”
If there is one trait that is utterly absent from Donald Trump, it is magnanimity. It seems that Paul Krugman and the object of his disdain share more characteristics than they know.