Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Liberals, Conservatives and Realignment

The Republican primaries held on Super Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 may signal a fundamental change in American politics - an actual political realignment. Essentially, a revolution is taking place in the Republican party (GOP) and actually to a lesser extent in the Democratic party as well. However, it is the changes taking place in the GOP that could lead to a realignment.

There are many ways to slice and dice the American political scene of the past forty years. To keep things simple, we focus on the Reagan revolution of 1981 which ushered in the era of supply side economics (and paved the way for globalization). Also, the cultural changes wrought by the baby boomer generation paved the way for a genuine American multiculturalism and the recognition of rights of blacks, women, minorities, GLBT etc. As these changes made their way through society and were accelerated by the arrival of the Internet, one segment of society - mainly composed of lower middle class whites without access to good education - fell behind. With no one to champion their rights or to look out for them economically and culturally, the time was ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge (after destabilizing events like 9/11, the dot com meltdown and the 2008 financial collapse).

Enter Donald Trump. By 2015, the fear and anger stoked by Fox News and the GOP had already reached fever pitch. Since there was/is a fundamental disconnect between the big business (socially liberal and economically conservative) GOP upper class and the poorer (and socially conservative and economically liberal) lower classes, the fear and anger acted as a catalyst for transformation. This uneasy alliance broke down in 2016 and we can symbolically attach Super Tuesday (March 1st) as the day the floodgates were opened. It is quite likely the GOP will not be the same party going forward and this will likely impact the Democratic party as well (especially considering the Bernie Sanders democratic socialist wing whose followers have a lot in common with Trump on the economic front). A political realignment now looks quite likely along a new Authoritarian <====> Libertarian axis. Or, we could see a realignment which spans a Retro <=====> Metro divide with nationalist, isolationist, economic liberals on end of the spectrum and internationalist, globalized, economic conservatives at the other end. For more on these possibilities, please see Ben Domenech (Federalist) here, a Vox article on authoritarianism here and Michael Lind's speculation on realignment  here.

I have not seen anyone discuss these (possible) changes from a consciousness perspective. Here's a very informal stab at this. We can model the Reagan era GOP coalition as comprising both social and economic conservatives. American social conservatives tended to be white and Christian and therefore this was their cultural center. While this was stable culturally it did have an ethnocentric (white rather than colorblind and Christian rather than neutral) underbelly. The Democratic coalition comprised social and economic liberals. American liberals (again mainly white and Christian) embarked upon a multicultural rainbow coalition mission which was largely successful but somewhat unstable and with an identity politics underbelly. If we are going to see a realignment, both coalitions will have to first undergo symbolic deaths followed by regrouping. To the extent this model is accurate, one would expect the millennials (the new group that will be politically active) to challenge both the emphasis on identity politics on the socially liberal side and the ethnocentric politics on the socially conservative side with both groups open to a transformation wherein identity is a priori secure with everyone accepted as having a seat at the table. We shall have to wait and see what transpires. These are fascinating times.