Tyler Cowen linked to Edward Luttwak’s TLS review of a quartet of books on how Hillary Clinton managed to lose the election.
However, the book essay is more interesting for Luttwak’s speculation about the rise of a Trump Dynasty, with the prospect of eight years of Donald to be followed by eight years of Ivanka.
The idea is neither new nor original But given Luttwak’s reputation as an astute historian of the grand strategy of empires, from the Roman to the Soviet, it may well be worth giving him a fair if brief hearing. The Ivanka scenario may not be as outlandish as it sounds. I for example particularly liked the Ivanka 2066, winner of Gideon Rachman’s hypothetical history exam in the FT. Written before the election, Jeremy Shapiro’s essay (to the extent this very unserious text can be taken seriously at all) assumed that Ivanka would win the presidency in 2036, even after her father’s loss in 2016.
No matter how unpopular President Trump becomes, Ivanka’s chances to reach the same office is likely to be higher than if her father had never become president. Even in the post-dynastic age political capital is remarkably hereditary, perhaps even more hereditary than financial or other forms of capital. And inter-generational political capital even seems to be remarkably resistant to scandal. It is certainly a topic which requires more careful study, but intergenerational political capital may possess antifragile properties and, to use Nassim Taleb’s words, be Lindy-compatible. For example, it is possible that by the time Napoleon III became President/Emperor the French only remembered/chose to pay attention to his uncle’s glories and not his failures. Likewise Park Geun-hye (daughter of Park Chung-hee), Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of Aung San), Marine le Pen or several others. Even Imee Marcos (daughter of Ferdinand, provincial governor and potential future president) – proving that even the offspring of quite notorious (non-hereditary) dictators can make successful political careers.
What is certain is that Ivanka is already being groomed for the office. Following the le Pen playbook she can present a toned-down Trumpism with a human face. Being a woman may be an asset in this regard too, compared to her male brothers who are both political non-entities.
Despite the Trump administration’s obvious troubles, Luttwak sketches out a landslide scenario for 2020 – to what extent he actually believes in it himself or just tries to make a provocative argument I don’t know. In any case he rests his case for re-election on Trump’s $1,3 trillion infrastructure plan, if it can be converted to action:
“If the resulting employment generation kicks in fully by 2020, Trump will coast to re-election, especially if by then he can claim that the Mexican border is “sealed”,,”
Of the four books Luttwak has reviewed, he only offers praise to one: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. The book convinced Luttwak:
“that Clinton did not understand in what country she was running for election: not one populated by black women (they dominated her convention), environmental activists, patriotic Muslims, vegans, committed free-traders and social engineers,,”
In reality, what Luttwak argues Trump and Bernie Sanders were the only two candidates to understand was that America is not a basket of deploarables but:
“A country of car owners and bitterly frustrated would-be new car owners,,”
And the problem in America, where car-ownership has long been the ultimate symbol of individual freedom, was that the median American could no longer afford a new car. Luttwak makes a persuasive, if somewhat Monday-morning-quarterbacking argument that:
“Had journalists studied the numbers (car affordability statistics published in June 2016) and pondered even briefly their implications, they could have determined a priori that only two candidates could win the Presidential election – Sanders and Trump – because none of the others even recognized that there was problem if median American households had been impoverished to the point that they could no longer afford a new car.”
While the maximum affordable price limits for a new car was $7,558 in Cleveland and $6,174 in Detroit, the cheapest new car on sale in the United States in 2016 was the Nissan Versa sedan at $12,825 – the failure of the American dream in one statistic.
Probably very few people feel the need or desire to read more books about the 2016 election. The good thing with multi-book reviews like this one from Luttwak is that you don’t have to either – the main arguments can be just as well summarised in a long-form review.
Apart from the Ivanka theory and car affordability statistics Luttwak make an interesting Chris Arnade-like observation of how: “candidate Trump positively relished his frequent stops at Domino’s, KFC and McDonald’s, where he went for Big Macs with a large order of french fries,” in contrast to uptight front-row politicians who pretend to enjoy their state fair hot dogs but who can’t wait to get back to their coastal quinoa salads.
Luttwak also interestingly contrasts the top-down centralized structure of the DNC, which significantly favoured the candidate of the elites (Clinton) over the people’s candidate (Sanders), with the decentralized bottom-up nature of the Republican Party, which made it liable to takeover from a non-party outsider like Trump, in a way that would probably have been unimaginable in the Democratic Party.