The end of the world is a big deal, and we all want in on it. God has chosen us and our time to perform the ultimate deed. He has honored us by ending the world on our watch. Those who came before were not worthy. If this moment passes us by, God will have deemed us unworthy. And we want to be God’s worthy.
And so it seems with today’s politics. Andrew O’Hehir writes, “The decadent state of democracy is obvious to many or most Americans.” “American democracy is in a state of profound and potentially terminal decay.” For proponents of the two-party system, “the decay must be denied or minimized.” God has chosen this generation to witness the destruction of the political system. He has honored us with this opportunity.
It is the final battle in the Lord of the Rings, endless fields of warriors on horses, with swords and shields and lances, bearing down on each other. But this is civil war, between the left-wing insurgency of the Democratic Party and its centrist establishment. The party, O’Hehir maintains, consists of lower income people of color, and affluent, coastal whites who will resist relinquishing their benefits to help those who are less fortunate.
There can only be two voices in America, the Democratic and the Republican, and the Democrats need to find their voice and excise the rest. They must remedy “the same awkward, anti-ideological, coalition-management politics that have rendered the Democratic Party so hollowed out, rootless, and demoralized over the past decade or so.” They must develop and speak with a voice that is progressive and inspiring. They must think not in terms of electoral victories, but march forward with a “clear sense of mission,” and a “core ideology.” And one that will bring about the income redistribution which O’Hehir’s fellow coastal elites will resist, but which he, the enlightened one, will help push forward.
I appreciate Andrew O’Hehir and enjoy his columns, so I’m just having a bit of fun here. All this navel-gazing, and what brought it about? A devastating election loss in which the Democratic candidate got only three million more votes than he who vanquished her, only picked up two seats in the Senate and six in the House, and lost by overwhelming margins of less than 1% in three critical states, losing Pennsylvania to a drop in black voter turnout with no Obama on the ballot, and a change in voting patterns in Wisconsin and Michigan due in part to some number of white working class voters shifting to the Republican party, an entirely new phenomenon which has only been going on since the Reagan era. Cause for revolt! And why…
Trump, of course.
It’s easy to imagine the end times with Trump in the White House. And he might just bring it about. Had an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush or John Kasich been the winner in a similarly close race, you can guess that the thoughtful, serious elders of the Democratic party would have retreated to some swanky resort to lick their wounds and plot strategy, and there wouldn’t have been nearly the fuss.
O’Hehir references Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times, who notes the realignment taking place between the parties. When Carter won the presidency, the top 5 percent of income earners voted 77-23 for the Republicans; in the Trump victory, it was about even. Affluent voters have been moving toward the Democrats. Nate Silver’s analysis after election night pointed to education being the deciding factor in the change in voting habits, with voters with more education tending Democratic and those with less, Republican. Since ‘white working class’ has a large intersection with ‘voters with less education,’ it has been used as a proxy for this shift. But this shift has been occurring since Reagan, or if you consider the shift of the South from Democratic to Republican, since Goldwater.
Things change over the course of 50 years! Who knew!?
Lee Drutman has a particular take on political realignment. He argues that it happens when we reach peak polarization, when the distances between the parties grows greatest. He further argues (this in March, 2016 before Trump’s nomination, victory, and its aftermath) that “We’ve now hit peak polarization. The forces that have fueled the widening gap between the two political parties are now fueling fights within the two political parties, fights that will lead to new coalitions in American politics, eventually realigning the two parties. A new era of American politics is about to emerge.”
Drutman maintains that polarization requires that parties maintain tight discipline over members and tight messaging for their constituents. This is breaking down, as O’Hehir notes, in the clash between insurgents in the Democratic party and its establishment types. It is also breaking down, in real-time, in the Republican party in ways that are so obvious they don’t require highlighting. Or as Mark Shields of Shields&Brooks put it the other night, and I paraphrase, “Whenever the Democrats lose an election, they form a circular firing squad, though less dramatically this time. But it is unusual that the winners, too, the Republicans, are lashing out against one another.”
The South did not become Republican because of economics, and it seems less because of policy that those who did became Reagan Democrats. Yet, one wonders if Corey Robin, as I referenced in an earlier column, will still have none of it. “That is why I have been so maniacally insistent on the boring bread and butter of conventional GOP party politics and policy: debates over Obamacare, rumblings over tax and trade and debt, and all the rest.” After the ‘realignment’, will the Democratic coalition stick mostly together over agreement on policies for the common people; and will the Republican coalition remain coalesced around low taxes, more war, and business.