Everyone wants someone to blame for the election of 2016. It's the media's fault that Donald Trump is running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton. No, it's Hillary's secretiveness and her Wall Street connections. No, it's the bankers. No, it's the economy, stupid. No, it's sexism, racism, reality television. And so on.
Many of these factors do affect the race, but none of them really explains the Trump phenomenon. Sure, Hillary would be further ahead if she were more charismatic or if the press were easier on her, but the real mystery is how a man like Donald Trump is in the race at all.
According to the old rules of American politics, his campaign should have been a non-starter. No matter how weak his opponents or how besotted the press, Trump should have been nothing more than a marginal figure in the Republican primary, let alone the general election.
The fact that he has come so far means that the rules themselves have changed. Trump is the beneficiary of a momentous political realignment that the media and the political establishment have yet to acknowledge, let alone adapt to. The ground is shifting.
For the past 100 years, the Republican and Democratic parties have battled over socio-economic interests. Republicans represented capital. Democrats represented labor. This fight is obsolete now; we just don't realize it yet. The 21st century will feature a new divide between global-minded modernists and provincial traditionalists. If I were Tom Friedman, I'd come up with snappy nicknames, like glo-mos and retros.
The educated, upwardly mobile, multicultural glomos live in coastal metropolitan areas, including states like Georgia and Arizona that are currently Republican. They prefer technocratic politicians who support immigration, diplomacy, trade, and government institutions. They are pro-corporate but accept modest regulation (think Google, not Walmart).
The primarily white, religious, economically stagnant retros live in the rural heartland, including midwestern states that have been traditionally Democratic. They prefer jingoistic populists who support border controls, protectionism, Christian values, and isolationism. They oppose all large global institutions, from the U.N. to multinational corporations.
Until recently, the retros were mostly impotent. Republican leaders paid them lip service and courted them in election years but did little to represent their interests. But the retros have been growing, coalescing, seizing power. John McCain felt obliged to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate to appease them. They tossed out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and hounded Speaker John Boehner from office. They have largely taken over the GOP in states like Kansas and Oklahoma.
And now they have a presidential candidate. Donald Trump. The reason he has come with spitting distance of the White House is not because Hillary is unlikeable or the media is spineless or the economy is struggling. He is here because he represents a vast coalition of American voters, a coalition that represents the future of global politics, or rather one side of the future.
Hillary Clinton represents the other side--modernists, globalists, technocrats. The Wall Street Republicans holding their noses while they vote for her don't realize it yet, but they are future Democrats. Not the old the Democratic Party of workers but the new Democratic Party of institutions.
Clinton will probably win this election, but win or lose, this battle is just beginning. There will be more Clintons and more Trumps. With each election, the realignment will become starker, and the old familiar fights between capital and labor will drift into the haze of memory. The next Trump-like presidential candidate will not be shocking or baffling. He or she will be the new normal.