Donald Trump slayed Hillary Clinton's campaign of inevitability Tuesday night. Hopefully, he vanquished the third way, too.
It was Clinton's husband who codified the third way into Democratic policy. It made sense to a generation of baby boomers grappling with the political reset created by Ronald Reagan. It fit well in the 1990s for a then-young political class that carried the scars of George McGovern's shellacking in 1972 by Richard Nixon, who, like Trump, spoke to a "great silent majority."
The chinks in Clinton's armor were obvious early on in the primary cycle. A no-name senator, Bernie Sanders, spoke to the compromised nature of the neoliberal policies Clinton represented. He, like Trump, questioned its commitment to Main Street U.S.A. He, too, proved that Clinton wasn't trusted, even within her own party.
And yet, Democrats ignored the warnings. They cleared the primary field for Clinton. After all, it was her turn, or something to that effect.
On Tuesday, the country rejected dynastic politics. It rejected a system that would coronate the very embodiment of the establishment. It rejected the third way, which has, for decades now, ignored massive swaths of this country. Third way politicians embraced free trade, without acknowledging the consequences. They blindly ran into wars. They became lapdogs of multinational corporations.
All that time, rural America decayed.
The writing's been on the wall for years now. Republicans dominate statehouses. They seized total control of Iowa Tuesday night. They dominate Congress. Come January, they own the White House, too. And the GOP's done it amid a similar revolt against its third way. The populist tea party has spent years ousting center-right politicians.
I have deep reservations about President-elect Trump. The man's campaign was built on little but a wholesale repudiation of cultural plurality and truth. It's unclear if an interest in governing or simply a need to win propelled his want for the presidency. He promised to build a wall. He promised trillions in infrastructure spending. He promised massive tax cuts for the richest among us. What happens if and when those promises prove unrealistic?
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I'm unsure Trump is cut out for governing. But these days, any prediction isn't worth much.
I hope he proves me wrong.
Going forward, it's Democrats that are in need of a reckoning, as do third way politicians throughout the West. Brexit was a harbinger, it seems. Right-wing nationalism is rising in Austria, France and Greece. The entire post-WWII order is suddenly in question. The middling third way is failing massive swaths of the population.
The third way is without principle. It's without soul. It's an approach designed by technocrats to fit nicely on a flow chart from when Windows 95 was shiny and new.
On Tuesday, Americans rejected the third way, opting instead for a gamble on something different if potentially dangerous. Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. They've spent decades blindly following a path that ended with the Cold War.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org