The New American Political Divide

December 15, 2016. |. by Marc David Loeb

The History of Realignments

While it maybe a little hard to imagine since political ideology has been relatively stable for decades, the political parties of the United States radically shift their views with surprising regularity. This is called a political realignment, or a realigning election, which refers to one party shifting their views to scoop up a new demographic, and the other shifting their own in response. The last time this process unfolded was in 1964, when Barry Goldwater secured the Republican nomination for president. Supported by the party membership, he differed radically from the “big government” Eisenhower and Rockefeller Republicans that had dominated the upper ranks of the party. Although he lost the election, he shifted the ideology of the Republican party. In 1968 Nixon would continue this metamorphosis, picking up Southern voters hostile to the counterculture of the 1960’s and LBJ’s program of racial integration. In 1980, Ronald Reagan combined Nixon’s social conservative tendencies with the economic conservatism of Goldwater, completing the transformation of the party. The Democrats in turn picked up it’s own new demographics, including African Americans and urban progressives. The map shifted from a Republican controlled West and Midwest (with a Democratic South and a contested North East) to the more familiar map of the past few decades. Thus the so named “6th Party System,” came into being (because it represented the 6th alignment of the major political parties).

We are currently experiencing a new shift to the 7th Party System of American Politics. Reflecting on the subject matter, political scientists have determined that realignment occur every 30–40 years in American politics. Earlier episodes of realignment came in the 1930s, with the New Deal, in the 1890s with the Progressives, the 1850s with the rise of the anti-slavery Republican party and in the 1820s with the rise of the populist Jacksonian Democrats. It has been over 50 years since Goldwater, so America is actually overdue. So what is the New American political divide? What will the electoral map look like in ten years once the parties have solidified once again? The new dividing issue of this nation will no longer be social issues, as it has been for the 6th Party System: Globalization will be the linchpin of our age. “Liberal” and “Conservative” will no longer be the monikers of our two parties, replaced by “Nationalist” and “Globalist,” open versus closed.

The forthcoming “alignments” are speculative, but a proposition that is increasingly supported by the movements of the two parties. So what will become of our parties over the next decade? Who will comprise them? What factions or internal divisions will dominate them? Let’s take a closer look.

The New Republicans

The Republicans will be the party of Nationalism. “America first” will become their prime mantra. Every action will have the patina of nationalism with a hint of xenophobia. They will view the American Dream as something under siege by outside forces and in need of defense. Ideologically the party will be diverse, comprised of a spectrum of protectionists: the white working class, socialists, market interventionists, social conservatives, manufacturers, nativists and organized labor. The core of the party being Trumpian “Economic Nationalists” and Bernie Sanders style “Democratic Socialists.” The combination may seem preposterous, I know, but they will be united in their disdain for immigration, free trade and international entanglements. If you dive more deeply into the similarities in policy between Trump and Sanders the coming amalgam seems obvious. Both are nativists who railed against immigration for decades (both claiming that immigrants depress domestic wages), both have long argued for market intervention and protectionism, both are isolationists and populists who used the internet to great effect, and finally both have soft spots for authoritarian regimes (Venezuela was granted sympathy by Sanders; Russia by Trump).

The diversity of political views within the party, ranging from TEA Partiers to “Sandernistas,” will lead to some internal fracturing, especially in the realm of taxation, and some social issues, such as abortion and the legalization of marijuana. However they will be united in opposing trade deals, immigration and economic liberalization, and will be very hesitant to support America’s allies abroad. Economic interventionism will become the norm within the party, typically through strong-arming businesses and playing favorites with companies that do their bidding (see Trump’s Carrier deal).

Unlike their disparate political views, the factions within the Republican party will share much in their methods. The party will grab populism in a deep embrace, claiming to fight for the little guys against the establishment and the Globalists. The party will favor grand gestures over small ones and will be hostile to the opinions of experts (including mainstream economists, sociologists and intelligence figures). Additionally there will be a strong authoritarian streak in the party, favoring “winners” and powerful men as leaders, and possibly a hostility to portions of the Constitution (see Trump’s threat to sue his detractors for libel).

Such a broad coalition is not unheard of in America, and has occurred several times in the past. The Republicans of the 1860s were a combination of businessmen, fundamentalist Christians, abolitionist intellectuals and small farmers. They disagreed on just about everything, save for fighting slavery. The famous “New Deal” coalition was equally fractured, a combination of some African Americans, White “Ethnics” (Jews, Italians, Irishmen), left leaning intellectuals, organized labor and racist Southern Whites. However they all coalesced around the social welfare of the New Deal, keeping the party together. Disdain of Globalization and Globalism might be a strong enough glue to unite several formerly opposing factions, who oppose each other in the realm of social liberalism and conservatism, but agree on a new linchpin issue (in this case being Protectionism).

There is significant evidence supporting several of these points, in addition to the parallels between Trump and Sanders and their political faction. Republicans are now, in polls, less friendly to the free market than Democrats are and are more willing to use Government as a tool to “keep jobs in the United States.” Trump also out performed Hillary Clinton amongst the white working class and did well with Unions.

The New Democrats

The Democrats will be the Globalist party. “America is for everyone” will become a major mantra. They will emphasize the American “duty” to help maintain the global free order, as well as allowing new people in to participate in the American Dream. Ideologically the party will be comprised of several large blocks, instead of dozens of smaller ones. These will be immigrants, business leaders, social liberals, urbanites and foreign policy hawks.

Similarly, the policies of the Democratic party will be fairly homogenous, spanning a moderately sized concinnity, rather than the stark difference between Republican factions. Policies favored by the Democrats will be moderately business friendly, in favor of international trade, advocating immigration and an open economy, as well as fighting for a continued and strong American international presence. They would seek to take a strong stance against Russian and Chinese aggression and advocate for America to retain its role as the “world’s policeman” keeping everything tidy so that goods, capital, people and ideas (especially American ideas) can continue to spread around the globe.

The methods of the Democratic party will be opposite those of the Republicans. Instead of eye catching grand gestures, the Party will focus on incremental change, more policy than personality. Additionally significant weight will be placed on experts and expert opinion, as opposed to gut feeling. A restrained, yet focused, party also has a long precedent in American politics. The Republicans before the 1990s could be described this way, smaller but more united and more professional, and putting great weight on the policies of experts within their fields.

There too is significant evidence underpinning this shift was well. The Democrats have increasingly become the party of American business leaders, and took the majority of the votes of the top income quintile. In polls, Democrats are now more favorable to trade and capitalism than Republicans are, and are now significantly more hostile to Vladimir Putin, a reversal of a historic trend. The endorsement of (and speech at the DNC in support of) Hillary Clinton by former Republican and business leader Michael Bloomberg (who exemplifies the above policies more than just about anyone else), is yet more evidence of the new alignment of the Democratic party.

There is a semi-famous Chinese saying “I curse you to live in interesting times.” We are so cursed. This is a time of great change and upheaval in America, the likes of which have not been seen in decades. And on this note, the beginning of a new era, the 7th Party System of American politics, can be announced.