Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s Taxonomy to the Unfolding Political Drama

A regular commenter brought the clip above to my attention. In it the Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell distinguishes among four categories of crime fiction. It’s short and I encourage you to watch it but here’s an even briefer summary.

In “Westerns” there is no law and the protagonist imposes law on a lawless territory.

In “Northerns” there is a flawless legal system in place which is effective in enforcing the law.

In “Easterns” the legal system is corrupt; it must be fixed from the inside.

In “Southerns” not just the legal system but everything is thoroughly corrupt—it must be fixed from outside.

I would point out that this taxonomy doesn’t just apply to crime fiction but to sci-fi in the movies and television and even medical dramas. Star Trek is a Northern. Star Wars is an Eastern. Serenity is a Western. There are even a few isolated Southerns (Riddick).

It occurred to me that it is productive to look at the way that different groups view the political drama that has been unfolding since 2016 using Gladwell’s prism. Democrats tend to look at the last nearly three years as a Northern. The system is working well to rid itself of a criminal. The Republicans, not terribly surprisingly, see it as a Southern—a man comes from outside to fix a thoroughly corrupted system.

Four species of Beltway Republicans

In focus groups I conduct across the country, even Republican voters who readily acknowledge Trump was not their first or even tenth choice in the Republican primary in 2017 will nonetheless say they are glad he is picking fights, breaking things, and draining the swamp. Last week, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans tied its record high of 90 percent.

.. a taxonomy of Republican leaders with four different categories.

.. [1] The first category of D.C. Republican is the Trump enthusiast. The true believer, the die hard. This is the type of person who was aboard the Trump Train from the get-go, someone for whom the Republican Party of Donald Trump is the party they’ve always hoped for. Tough on immigration and trade, never enamored of Bush-era foreign policy, thrilled to have overthrown the old guard, this is the type of individual for whom a Trump administration has made Washington their oyster.

[2] The second category of D.C. Republican is the establishmentarian. Someone who was perfectly comfortable under the “old ways” but has adapted quickly to survive in their new, harsher environs. They play for Team GOP and Trump is their quarterback, so they’re happy to run his plays as long as they keep winning games. Trump was not toward the top of their list of possible choices for a nominee in 2016, but once he was picked, he was the guy and it was time to fall in line. A significant portion of Capitol Hill and the Republican Party apparatus fits into this category. Do they love the tweeting? Not really. Do they care enough to object? Absolutely not, not so long as regulations are being reformed and taxes are being cut.

[3] .. The third category is the internal opposition. As the continuing echo of the “Never Trump” movement, they view Trump as consistently wrong and categorically dangerous. They have found common cause with Democrats in the #Resistance, holding semi-secret meetings to discuss how to combat what they view as a hostile parasite that has found in the GOP a too-willing host. There is very little that they find praiseworthy about the current moment, and there have even been moments where some, like former presidential candidate Evan McMullin, have actively called for the defeat of mainstream Republicans at the ballot box as a way of teaching the party a lesson.

[4] But there is a fourth group. For lack of a better name at the moment, I will shamelessly steal the name of the excellent podcast hosted by columnist Jonah Goldberg: Goldberg in his introductory episode notes that his show will be neither pro- nor anti-Trump, but rather something for those who feel left behind by the other factions, who live in a constant state of feeling that everyone else around them seems to have gone crazy.