Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Demise of the Democratic Party

The demise of the Democratic Party? The claim is ambitious and I claim no certainty. Of course the Republican Party then has to change, too.

The symptoms of such a change are apparent. Political correctness--proudly inaugurated by we Trotskyists back in the early 70s--entered the American mainstream by the 1980s. But recently it has descended into parody, as illustrated by Mizzou and Yale, and also by the "rape culture" witch-hunt. Further, the environmental movement has gone off the rails, advocating ever more extreme policies that, if enacted, will impoverish billions of people. These are not positions of a thriving political movement.

Our argument starts with Arnold Kling's book describing the three axes of politics, which I reviewed and summarized here. Briefly, he claims that political discourse is organized around three poles: Progressives see the world as a tension between oppressor and oppressed; Conservatives defend civilization against barbarism, while Libertarians support freedom over coercion. In the current political alignment, Progressives are all Democrats, while Conservatives and Libertarians are uncomfortably joined in the Republican Party.

But it need not always be that way. To see why, note that Mr. Kling's label Progressive is misleading. Progressives look forward to a better world. They are building a future where there is no inequality, racism has been conquered, poverty is but a memory, and electric power comes from magical unicorns that leave no environmental footprint. Only the 1%, or perhaps the people with white male privilege, or the big corporations stand between us and a more humane world.

But there is another way to reach the same conclusion. Instead of a utopian future, what we really need to do is recover some golden age past. Do you remember those days when a guy with a high school education could get a good job at the factory? When there were uplifting shows on TV like Leave it to Beaver, or Father Knows Best. When the biggest decision in life was the choice between Ford and Chevy. Those were the days, my friend, and but for the 1%,  or the big corporations, or disruptive technology, or free trade with foreigners, we could go back to those halcyon days when we all lived happily ever after.

Believers in that last dream are commonly called conservatives (though they differ somewhat from Mr. Kling's description of Conservative), but the only real difference between them and Progressives is which direction they're looking. Progressives look forward to the future, while conservatives look back at the past. But at the end of the day they're both looking at the same thing, and regard the same people as enemies. Especially if you ditch the political correctness meme (which is happening in real time right before our eyes), then progressive and conservative close cousins under the skin.

The current exemplar of the conservative movement is Donald Trump. And lo and behold he's a long-time Democrat, a former close ally of that progressive, Hillary Clinton. So it is not written in stone that conservatives will always be allied with Libertarians. Quite the contrary, one sees a split in the Republican Party, with Trump, Cruz, and Carson on one side, and Paul, Bush, and Rubio on the other.

So I foresee a Janus-faced political party combining backward-looking conservatives on one side with forward-looking progressives on the other. There is tension between them, to be sure, but they both share the same enemies. Let's call them the Traditionalists. Traditionalists oppose free trade, are skeptical of immigration, support unions, support subsidies to important American firms such as GM and the Post Office, don't like Silicon Valley, and tend to be nativist. In addition to the above list, their ranks include Pat Buchanan (arguably the founder of the movement), Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Matt Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh. Their constituency will be Blacks, Appalachians, and working-class whites. The coin of their realm will be a deep-seated grievance against the 1%, globalization, disruptive technology, and the New Normal.

Opposing the Traditionalists will be a Party I'll dub the Liberals, so named because they'll count among their members classical liberals such as Arnold Kling and me. But not just us. Other members will include Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, Bill McKibben, Bryan Caplan, and John Kerry. The Liberals will believe in free trade and open borders, along with the rule of law. They'll welcome new technology. Unlike the Traditionalists, they'll see the modern era as the best of times. Maybe it will get better in the future, but only if we stay the course.

Liberals will also be a coalition. While all of us will subscribe to capitalism and globalization, the Party will contain both Keynesians and Hayekians. Against the Traditionalists those differences are modest. Likewise, people who worry about global problems (e.g., Bill McKibben) will sign up as Liberals. The Liberals' constituency will include Silicon Valley, the professional class, new immigrants (e.g., most Hispanics and Asians), young people, and people who enjoy travel and interesting restaurants.

So lets consider specifically the fate of two subgroups: academics and Trotskyists.

Academics will split, though not evenly. The top of the profession--e.g., Larry Summers and Paul Krugman--will be Liberals. That's because they're winners in the winner-take-all competition, and they benefit directly from global marketplace for their ideas. I expect the famous people at the Ivies to be Liberals pretty much regardless of their current political affiliations. The internecine fight within the Liberal Party will be intense, but again, compared to the Traditionalists all differences will pale.

Most Academics--e.g., my colleagues at the local state college--will become Traditionalists. Their top priorities will be to preserve funding, tenure, and the prestige that comes from the title professor. All of these are at risk in the New Normal, threatened by both technology and globalization. 

Those faculty who staffed the barricades at Mizzou are part of the Traditionalist brigade, though they don't realize it yet. Everybody at the barricades--the faculty, the Black students, the white students--have a vested interest in the survival of the university as an institution. They will need allies in its defense. Their natural allies are other people in the same predicament, i.e., people whose jobs are being automated or globalized, and whose salaries are declining. To win those allies my faculty colleagues are going to have to abandon political correctness. I think you will see that happen very quickly now.

My Trotskyist friends are in worse shape. Note that socialism will not be on the agenda for either Party. Some Trotskyist talking points will still have traction, e.g., the higher minimum wage, a growth of the union movement, and a dig at the 1%. But the blanket condemnation of individual property and freedom will be a non-starter. Further, most of the Trotskyist movement has aligned itself with radical environmentalism, which will put them at odds with most Traditionalists.

I think Trotskyism will fade into irrelevance. (Actually, I've thought that for a long time.)

A possible exception is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The masthead of the The Militant proclaims it's "published in interests of working people." Working people have to have jobs, and so the SWP has wisely distanced itself from the job-killing Greenies. Likewise, they're taking more "conservative" stands regarding Jihadism, Israel, and national defense. They are gradually turning themselves into a Traditionalist grouping. They might survive as such (though they won't be recognizably Trotskyist anymore).

Traditionalist Parties have long existed in Europe, including the National Front in France, UKIP in Britain, and Alternativ fuer Deutschland in Germany. Perhaps Syriza could now be put under that umbrella. In all cases they are becoming simultaneously less socialist and less fascist, and thereby more palatable to a mainstream audience.

So Donald Trump, rather than being an outlier, is a foretaste of politics in the New Normal.

Further Reading:

4 comments:

  1. ". . .A possible exception is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The masthead of the The Militant proclaims it's "published in interests of working people." Working people have to have jobs, and so the SWP has wisely distanced itself from the job-killing Greenies. Likewise, they're taking more "conservative" stands regarding Jihadism, Israel, and national defense. They are gradually turning themselves into a Traditionalist grouping. They might survive as such (though they won't be recognizably Trotskyist anymore). . ."

    You may be on to something there, Dan. The SWP has taken to selling The Militant at Donald Trump rallies lately!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! I didn't know that. It does make sense.

      Delete
  2. Those most hostile to Trump and his traditionalist supporters would seem to be the campus-based types of the sort you describe as going traditionalist. Then again, the SF and NYC-based yuppies working in so-called new media also hate them, perhaps even more, and they're part of the liberal class you've outlined.

    "Their top priorities will be to preserve funding, tenure, and the prestige that comes from the title professor. All of these are at risk in the New Normal, threatened by both technology and globalization."

    In the Bay Area I see this play out. Oakland/Berkeley is made up of many in the academic-to-non-profit pipeline, and they utterly loath tech - that thing happening across the water - which they falsely believe to be made up of mostly libertarians. The kernel of truth however is that the kind of liberalism found in Silicon Valley actually does comport with libertarianism fairly well, as it's less economically populist and more forthrightly globalist and pro-technology.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't know if this is a typo or intentional. If the latter, I don't understand your line of reasoning for including Hillary Clinton among the Traditionalists:

    "Traditionalists oppose free trade, are skeptical of immigration, support unions, support subsidies to important American firms such as GM and the Post Office, don't like Silicon Valley, and tend to be nativist... their ranks include Pat Buchanan, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Matt Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh.Their constituency will be Blacks, Appalachians, and working-class whites. The coin of their realm will be a deep-seated grievance against the 1%, globalization..."

    First, in the immediately prior paragraph, you described Hillary as a Progressive. Based on your taxonomy in this post (Progressives, Conservatives, Traditionalists and Liberals), how can be both a Progressive AND a Traditionalist?

    Hillary Clinton IS in favor of globalization! She endorses the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement unlike all the others whom you (in my opinion) correctly describe as Traditionalists. Hillary Clinton is NOT skeptical of immigration, as she is in favor of offering resettlement in the USA to some huge number of Syrian and other refugees. Based on Hillary Clinton's behavior while Secretary of State, as well as her close alignment with the Barack Obama regime, she supports and is supported by Silicon Valley.

    Admittedly, you wrote this in November 2015, and things have changed since then. Hillary Clinton was forced to move left in order to appeal to Bernie Sanders supporters. Bernie Sanders himself was forced to abandon acceptable Independent stances by running as a Democrat. For example, Bernie had been a long-time supporter of 2nd Amendment rights for his state's constituents, he opposed the Brady Bill, etc. As a 2016 Democrat candidate, he recanted and was contrite. Never mind about Bernie Sanders now.

    Do I misunderstand your inclusion of Hillary as a Traditionalist, because you are differentiating between her putative stance ("branding") versus reality? Yes, her official campaign language and policy proposals express a deep-seated grievance against the 1%. In fact, many of the 1% through 0.01% support Hillary Clinton, e.g. most of Wall Street (not retail banking and other traditional service providers, but rather, the financial elite) so your point may be valid. She has the support of union leadership and Appalachia, but recall her comment about putting coal miners out of jobs.

    I agree with you, that she has the support of many black people. Ironically, in supporting Hillary Clinton, they are doing exactly what Democrats accuse GOP supporters of doing: Voting against their own best interests. Black voters are American citizens. More immigration, especially more low-wage foreign labor, has a direct negative impact on employment opportunities and the demand price of labor (i.e. wages). Black, and especially young black Americans have the highest rates of unemployment throughout the USA, and those rates of unemployment have soared under Obama's economic policies. The Socialist Workers Party and unions (other than public sector unions) should be supporting Traditionalists, who are almost always GOP. Of course, not all GOP are Traditionalists, as you also observed. The so-called Neocons (Trotsky's REAL children?) are now giving their support to Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton rather than the GOP candidate. In general, your political taxonomy is more descriptive of reality than the simple Democrat versus GOP distinction.

    ReplyDelete