Apparently in American presidential politics there’s something called a base. The Democrats have one, the Republics have another, and Donald Trump has his very own.
Voters who don’t belong to a base can drift from one candidate to another, but not if you do belong to one. But if you’re a member of one you can’t move to another. That’s because membership in a base is something you acquire shortly after you’re born, like an infant baptismal certificate, or no longer having a foreskin.
A base is what guarantees a candidate people to thank even if she was ‘disappointed’ by the results that “the CNN decision desk is now ready to declare …” Your base is what told you to run in the first place, and what allows you to think that, though a loser, you’re nonetheless still a player.
Your base is like your mother. You can do no wrong, but others can and do wrong you. And a base neither knows nor cares about what you stand for until after you’ve stood for it. This gives you an enormous amount of latitude in selecting policies that might appeal to those swing voters who are not of your base.
Pundits talk about candidates appealing to their base. This is nonsense. If you have to appeal to them they’re not, nor ever were, your base. So the more you have to fulfill one election promise, or walk another one back, the smaller your base must have been. This is why Trump, like every demagogue before him, has no need to look over his shoulder. The size of his base makes appeasement unnecessary.
Does this mean that, in the same way matter can neither be created nor destroyed, no base can ever grow or shrivel? If so, the obvious question is, how does a base ever enter the world or leave it? To which the obvious answer is: with you. Just as there’s a fact of the matter about how many words you’ll speak before you die – and therefore I advise you to husband them well – there’s a fact of the matter about how big your base will be the moment you declare your candidacy. Who were they beforehand? They were your base-in-waiting.
Trump took a look at his and if anything underestimated it. Clinton took a look at hers and vastly overestimated it. It was Sanders who commanded the Democratic base. Like Trump, he could say the stupidest things – and he did – and they loved him all the more for it. But for all that he couldn’t have won. Too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish.
Unlike in America, we don’t have the cult of personality in Canada, probably because our politicians don’t have any. And that seems to be the way we like it. But we do have our base voters. The NDP premier of the Province of Alberta, Rachel Notley, can betray everything the NDP base stands for, but it doesn’t matter because she’s the NDP premier. If it’s base wasn’t loyal, it wouldn’t be called its base.
Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, belonging to a base is not a sign of being politically engaged. On the contrary, it’s a way of being relevant to the issues without having to think about them. Not unlike in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, the Party, or the Great Leader, does all that thinking for you. But this is hardly a criticism. Since few of us are in a position to have an informed opinion about these issues anyway, it’s more efficient this way.
My grandmother was a Bolshevik. My father was a Marxist. So I became a socialist – not that I know or need care what that means – about the same time I lost my foreskin. Since in a healthy democracy somebody has to take this side rather than the other, what difference does it make whether he’s thought about it? It’s not like if we all thought about it we’d all end up on the same side. Think of it like Field Day when you were back in grammar school. Does it really matter whether you’re assigned to the Blue team or the Red team?
Well no, unless some of your friends were given their sashes just before you.
But that’s not a healthy thought-experiment. If I console myself by observing that I like the people on my team more than the people on theirs, I can’t help wondering whether I like them because they’re on my team, rather than the other way around.
And what this shows, once again, is that some things just don’t bear thinking about.