trump symposium ii: the organizational basis of today’s crazy politics – a guest post by josh pacewicz
This guest post on Trump’s run for president is written by Josh Pacewicz, a political sociologist at Brown University.
In case you haven’t noticed, this has been a crazy election cycle. On both the Democratic and Republican side, a candidate who is more extreme than the typical serious presidential contender went all the way to the convention. Trump, who espouses some positions that are not recognizably Republican, is arguably even more the anomaly than Sanders. But both fared well, which suggests that the contours of America’s 20th Century party system are strained, if not cracked. How did this happen?
2016 makes sense only in the historical context of the gradual polarization of American political parties, or the tendency of politicians from the two parties to vote differently on every issue. Party polarization is distinct from other trends like a rightward drift among both Republicans and Democrats and is visible in, for instance, analyses of congressional voting, which show no Republican with a voting record left of any Democrat. A political status quo based in complete disagreement is a necessary precondition of this election, because only then do political observers expect politicians to treat their opponents as unredeemable out-there radicals, a state of affairs that creates opportunities for candidates who truly are outside the political mainstream. Because partisan polarization is a decades-long trend, explanations of 2016 that focus on factors like the recession or racial resentment over Obama’s presidency seem incomplete. Since the 1980s, party polarization has increased in good economic times and bad, during periods of war and peace, and under Democratic and Republican administrations.
Tim Gill is a CIPR fellow at Tulane University. His research addresses political sociology and globalization. This guest post addresses the candidacy of Donald Trump.
In May, I taught my final course at the University of Georgia as I finished up my dissertation: a three-week long seminar on political sociology. Before the course, I was certain that Trump would be the most sought after topic of discussion by the students, regardless of what topic we broached. The Great Depression and issues of tariffs? Trump. The civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter? Trump. And, finally, how performances matter within US politics? Well, of course, Trump.
I admit. When I teach political sociology and use books and articles concerning US politics, my head tends to wander back to Venezuela, where I do most of my research. This didn’t happen though nearly as monolithically this summer. Along with the students, my thoughts also redirected themselves towards Trump, his recurrently outlandish policy positions, and bigoted comments. After each new comment, we would think this surely would be the end of the campaign. As we found out, it wasn’t. And it somehow hasn’t been, even as the absurdities have persisted.
This week, we’ll have a few posts about the candidacy of Donald Trump. It will have three parts:
- Tom Gill will post on Trump as a political performer.
- Then, Josh Pacewicz will dig into Trump’s poll numbers.
- We’ll wrap up with a post by me on Trump, where I’ll add some of my own thoughts.
I’ll focus on the following points. Interested readers should send me questions:
- How predictable/unpredictable was the Trump candidacy?
- Using the Entertainment Theory of the GOP to understand Trump’s nomination and likely November loss.
- Using Trump to explain when social science theories do/do not work.
What do you want to know about Trump? Use the comments or send me email.
Fabio has written about this a bit already, but it’s worth thinking about how sociology on the internet parallels this larger story about blogs as distinctive showcases of writers’ voices to to the greater immediacy of twitter alongside the ubiquity of “blogs” on many different kinds of websites. In the New Republic, Jeet Heer argues blogging was a victim of its own success, though it’s interesting to consider how this tracks onto the decreased importance of blogging within sociology, which seems to me a much more straightforward story of technological change (folks shifted from blogging to social media).
To judge by Read’s account, both Gawker and blogging were victims of their own success, albeit in very different ways. Gawker got big enough to earn a frighteningly powerful enemy, a relentless and unforgiving man who deployed his vast resources and the legal system to crush the publication. Blogging got so popular that it caught the attention of the mainstream media, which bought up the best talent, and of Silicon Valley, which recast the writer’s medium from an intimate platform that was all about voice to a social network all about clicks and shares. Banks are lucky enough to be too big to fail; Gawker and blogging were too big to succeed.
Org theory people are just coming home from the Academy of Management meetings and sociologists are about to leave for the American Sociological Association meetings. I am also trying to wrap up a really, really, really ridiculously cool project that I am so going to tell you about. So we’re taking a break here till next week. But, boy, do we have some good stuff coming up:
- A mini-symposium on the sociology of Trump: Tim Gill from Tulane will write about political performance and Josh Pacewicz from Brown will approach the Trump candidacy from the perspective of class politics.
- Catching up on books: The Inner Lives of Markets by Ray Fishman and Tim Sullivan; Anthony Ocampo’s The Latinos of Asia; and The Second Machine Age by Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
- Article discussion of “Racism and Discrimination” by Nancy DiTomaso
- My response to Pamela Oliver’s post on mass incarceration. Hint: Don’t wait. Read it now.
Also, if you are at the ASA, please drop by and say hello. I would love to meet you. I’ll be at the following events:
- The historical/comparative sociology mini-conference.
- Panel discussion on Black Power outcomes (Sunday 10:30 AM).
- Author meets critics for Joyce Bell’s book, The Black Power Movement and American Social Work (Monday 10:30 AM).
- Regular panel on new work on healthcare professions (Monday 4:30pm) .
See you after ASA!