The furor has died down surrounding the Republican nomination for president (though the prospect of fireworks at the GOP convention in Cleveland is anything but dead). Now, attention has shifted to perhaps the bigger story: the Democratic Party is splintering too, and realignment across the spectrum is coming.
Commenting on the chaos at the Nevada State Democratic Convention, CNN political director David Chalian said:
If you call for a revolution, don’t be so surprised when one shows up.
The comment applies to the Trump phenomenon as much as it does to Bernie Sanders. Chalian also noted that there are many similarities between the people voting for Trump and those voting for Sanders. According to exit polls, as many as 40% of Sanders’ voters prefer Trump over Clinton as a second choice.
The bailouts of large banks and General Motors in response to the financial crisis of 2008 provoked a wave of inchoate anger among a large segment of the American population. They sparked the conviction that “the system is rigged,” yet spawned two parallel sets of reactions. The Left’s reaction was the spasmodic “Occupy Wall Street” movement; the Right’s was the Tea Party.
While the fiery passions of Occupy Wall Street died down to glowing coals until Bernie Sanders began blowing on them, certain elements of the Tea Party movement were brought to incandescence through further outrages of the Obama administration. Specifically, the underhanded methods used to pass ObamaCare enraged both the public and popular talk radio hosts and bloggers. As a result, over-promising by Republican candidates as to what they would do if they regained control of the Congress in 2010 and 2014 — hardly unique in the annals of American politics — gave rise to the demand for an “outsider.” Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, and Trump all rode this wave.
In both cases there has been a call for revolution, and in both cases the revolution showed up. What are the likely consequences?
It should in no way be surprising that the twin exemplars of revolution, Sanders and Trump, are both products of the 1960s. Though the roots of the phenomenon lie much deeper and are beyond the scope of this article, the 1960s gave rise to the modern populism we see in the Sanders and Trump movements. Both can be seen to stem from the rhetorical chorus of grievance politics — which has been the hallmark of the Democrats over the past 50 years — as well as the classic vision of the original civil rights movement exemplified by Martin Luther King’s dream.
He had a vision of an America in which his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He presented this to a country divided and balkanized along class and ethnic lines, characterized by a pseudo-Marxist politics of envy, a conviction that the American dream is subject to a rigged, zero-sum game.
The naive, Marxist view of most of Sanders’ supporters is readily apparent — but something very like it is evident in its Trumpian mirror-image.
The conservative Republican candidates this election season addressed the pressing issues of the day in terms of Obama’s big-government encroachment on individual liberty and freedom. They frequently stressed a return to something closer to the original constitutional provisions of federalism under which the several states are sovereign. Such language has been tellingly absent from Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Instead, Trump speaks in terms of “greatness,” and to the extent that he has formulated any policy provisions, those he’s articulated have contemplated the same sort of large, paternalistic government solutions the conservatives opposed and still oppose.
The chief difference between the Sanders and Trump camps seems to be the groups to whom they pander in their appeals.
Sanders plays for all the usual Democratic constituents, and he gains the college-indoctrinated youth. Trump’s nationalistic appeal is aimed at the group being neglected by the Democrats: white, relatively poorly educated workers who have left the Democrats’ ranks in droves, understanding with ever greater clarity that they aren’t among their protected, pandered-to classes. So Trump panders to them, stoking their anger just as Sanders stokes the anger on the left side of the ledger.
Regardless of the outcome of the national conventions and subsequent elections, it looks as though both parties are heading for a break-up and a re-alignment of political trends.
We have three de facto parties emerging, and they may become de jure in the near future.
The Republican Party appears to be splitting into two factions, one spearheaded by the highly principled conservatives grouped around the #NeverTrump hashtag, who constitute the core of an American Conservative Party (regardless of what it comes to call itself). This group may — or may not — ally itself to the Libertarians, agreeing to disagree about certain things in the interests of small government and the federalism of the sovereign states. This would be a party founded on the worth and maximal freedom of the individual citizen.
The other is the mass-movement, paternalistic group whose patriotism has morphed into a worship of nationalistic greatness at the expense of the individual.
The Democratic Party is likewise splitting into what may be termed a Fabian party, which would pursue the same paternalistic (or, given their embrace of radical feminism, perhaps maternalistic) corporatist policies and gradualistic approach to socialism which has been the hallmark of the party for a long time. This group is represented by the Hillary Clinton wing of the party. The other group is the mass-movement, maternalistic revolutionary yearnings of the impatient Sanders supporters, who, being largely a mixture of Leftist intellectuals and college-indoctrinated youth, are not going away soon.
If not in this election cycle, then sometime soon the maternalistic Sandernistias and the paternalistic Trumpkins will marry into one party.
This is what I see emerging from the ashes of the bonfire of American political vanities kindled by the Obama administration from the dry tinder of the previous four decades, and fanned by alternative media.