The great upside of the Trump campaign has been its role as a clarifying agent. The unseen currents that have governed the Republican electorate in the Obama era have swelled to the surface, and it is now hard to deny that white revanchism (or in Jonathan Chait’s memorable phrase, “ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason”) is the single most powerful force motivating a plurality of these voters. You can easily interpret Trump’s forthcoming nomination as the ultimate expression of the right’s visceral rejection of so much of what President Obama stands for: a waning of white power, a fairer distribution of resources across race and class, an emerging minority-majority nation. As many have pointed out, it is no coincidence that Trump started his political life as the country’s leading birther.
Lowering corporate tax rates, overhauling entitlements, ending abortion—these mainstays of the conservative political class and intelligentsia have all taken a backseat to the ludicrous notion of building a massive wall on the Mexican border, proposed by a former pro-choicer who is more than a little Obamacare-curious. Conservative intellectuals are looking at their own party and realizing they know very little about it. And it is precisely because Trump’s appeal is so simple that he can pretend to be a more complex politician than he actually is. He will portray himself as a champion of the (white) working class. He will declare himself a foe of global trade deals and rash military interventionism. He will say Hillary Clinton is the candidate captured by monied interests.
But what he actually represents is the overt manifestation of the ugliest strain in American politics. So the choice couldn’t be simpler. This election won’t be about the size of government or instability in the Middle East or NAFTA. It will be about tackling this revanchist movement head on. It is up to the Democrats—and whoever might want to join them—to defeat it.