The times, they are a-changin’. In a stir of the demographic pot just as sudden and unsettling as the party shift that the United States went through in the 1960s, we are now, today, voting in the first Presidential election of what I perceive as a new era in the relationship between the two major political parties.
The Republican party still prides itself on being the Party of Lincoln, because it provides a brush to paint the Democrats as the party of Jim Crow, racism, and slavery. This belief that history hasn’t changed at all in the last fifty years is perhaps one of the only remaining conservative beliefs of the modern Republican party. Witness as Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump makes this mistake as recently as this summer, in a speech in Everett, Washington.
Trump: Democrats Are The Party Of Slavery, Segregation, & Oppression, posted by Dinesh D’Souza
However, a bit of history. The Civil Rights era caused a massive party shift. Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, while not being morally opposed to desegregation, defended segregation on a philosophical basis, saying that it was not Big Government’s role to decide who people were to associate with. This dovetailed nicely with the anti-governmental attitudes becoming ever more prevalent in the Republican party (and which would come to the fore during the Reagan administration). While Republicans still carried the banner of Lincoln into Dwight Eisenhower’s day, Goldwater’s thumbs-down on the Civil Rights act combined with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington (which pressured Lyndon Johnson to pass the Civil Rights act into law) and, arguably, the Nixon campaign’s decision to court the South by polarizing racial tensions during the lead up to the 1972 presidential campaign, fomented a sea change in the platforms of the two parties.
This is a beautifully illustrated and reasonably concise explanation that shows the party shift through time, as put together by Vox.
Since the post-Civil war era, and especially after Reagan was elected, the Republican party was the party of big business and small government, at least hypothetically. The GOP’s strategy of enriching the rich in the name of trickle-down economics was a winner with rich donors, who flocked to the Right. Slashing the social safety net was sold to the Republican base as a way to wrest their hard-earned money away from welfare queens and to reward hardworking Americans by reducing their taxes, although in reality, the Welfare Queen meme was based on the experience of one freakishly atypical outlier named Linda Taylor, and Reagan went on to raise taxes and expand government. The collective policies of the Republican party since the 1970s served to increase inequality, immiserate the poor, incentivize the downward spiral of wages, shovel jobs out of the country, and blame the working class and poor for their misfortune.
Today, we are seeing another party shift. Red “flyover” states which have embraced Republican policies for years are experiencing all the expected effects, including a dearth of jobs and opportunity, are parting ways from the wealthy cadre of Country Club Republicans (exemplified by the likes of Mitt Romney) and voting for someone they see as a non-political outsider, Donald Trump. For the first time, perhaps, they are hearing a candidate for office speak to the issues they are affected by on a daily basis. Ironically, these are the same effects that those of us on the Left side of the spectrum have been talking about for years, but which haven’t been heard by those on the Right because crazy liberals are easy to write off when you already “know” they’re wrong.
Early in this campaign season, we had two populist candidates talking about some of the same issues. On the Left, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders sought to run on the Democratic ticket and experienced a groundswell of support, especially from younger voters. However, for various reasons, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton prevailed in the primaries. Frightened by the apocalyptic vision of a Trump presidency, wealthier donors and many older-school Republicans are coalescing around support for Hillary Clinton, who, like Barack Obama, resembles nothing so much as a mainstream Republican from a few decades ago. As the Republican coalition of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives separates, we’re seeing the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican party shift to the Democrats, as gay marriage and transgendered folks wanting to use a bathroom in peace are not issues that offend the rich. Considering the Democrats’ stereotypical support for the welfare state, it’s exceedingly odd that in a presidential election, the populist candidate is the Republican, while the Democrat is seen as representing the interests of Wall Street and the political elite.
Unfortunately for voters who value opportunity for the working class, a strong social safety net, and civil rights for women, minorities and GLBT+ individuals, there’s no viable political party for them to call home anymore. Trump’s campaign is defiled by misogyny and racism. The party of Abraham Lincoln is now the party of David Duke, and if that doesn’t drive home the reality of the party shift, I don’t know what will. While there have been multiple eulogies for the GOP lately, it’s worth noting that in hard times, ugly forces like xenophobia and fascism reassert themselves, and hard times are where we’re headed. Rural families and urban minorities, being culturally and economically on the margins, have been the first to feel the pain, but fail to perceive that they share a struggle. While liberal policies that conserve more widely shared prosperity and emphasize economic equality and are likely to have had a protective effect in Bluer areas, those in Red states don’t seem to be willing to question many of the failed economic policies that made their problems worse.
It seems likely that the Trump faction is in the process of inheriting the Republican party, but it behooves the liberals to understand what is hiding behind the ugly face of rising hate. Unlikely as it seems, the residents of Trump’s America (such as the displaced oil workers of Louisiana) and the Sanders base of the Democratic party, have common cause. It’s a crying shame that social issues prevent us from seeing it, and inevitably force us to go at each others’ throats.