Conservative parties operating in modern democracies face a dilemma: How does a party that represents the interests of moneyed elites win mass support? The dilemma sharpens as inequality widens — the more the haves have, the more have-nots there are who want to tax them.
In their new book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that three paths are possible: Moderate on economics, activate social divisions, or undermine democracy itself. The Republican Party, they hold, has chosen a mix of two and three. “To advance an unpopular plutocratic agenda, Republicans have escalated white backlash — and, increasingly, undermined democracy,” they write.
On some level, it’s obvious that the GOP is a coalition between wealthy donors who want tax cuts and regulatory favors, and downscale whites who fear demographic change and want Trump to build that wall. But how does that coalition work? What happens when one side gains too much power? If the donor class was somehow raptured out of politics, would the result be a Republican Party that trafficked less in social division, or more? And has the threat of strongman rule distracted us from the growing reality of minoritarian rule?
In this conversation, we discuss how inequality has remade the Republican Party, the complex relationship between white identity politics and plutocratic economics, what to make of the growing crop of GOP leaders who want to abandon tax cuts for the rich and recenter the party around ethnonationalism, how much power Republican voters have over their party, and much more.
Paul Pierson's book recommendations:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
The Social Limits to Growth by Fred Hirsch
Jacob Hacker's book recommendations:
Tocqueville's Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Internationalists by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro
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