Little noticed in the United States, perhaps, is the current
political crisis in Spain that followed that nation’s recent
parliamentary elections. Spanish politics, of course, has its
own idiosyncratic history which is not only very distinct
from U.S. political history, but has had significant contrasts
often with other European nations in the past half
Bur Spain’s past is not Spain’s present. Following the death
of its long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Spain
became a constitutional monarchy. Two major political parties
emerged, one on the left and one on the center-right, and they
have alternately governed Spain ever since. In 2015, however,
two new significant parties arose, one on the populist left and
other on the populist right. After the parliamentary elections,
the Spanish body politic woke up with four major parties, and
since that time, the establishment parties, left and right, have
been unable to form a new government.
This is not an isolated occurrence in Europe. In France, a
populist movement on the right now seriously contends for
power. Separatist movements now punctuate the European
map in Scotland, Catalonia, Italy, and The Netherlands.
Czechoslovakia has formally divided into two nations. The
former Yugoslavia has been divided into multiple sovereign
nations. In the United Kingdom, a nationalist party (UKIP)
has intruded on the traditional three-party parliamentary
system, as has the Scottish national party. In Germany, the
most influential and popular European leader, Chancellor
Angela Merkel, at the height of her power, has tried to impose
an unpopular immigration policy on her electorate. She is
now, as a result, in political trouble.The European Union itself
teeters on dissolution.
In short, everywhere in Europe the old established order of the
right and left is under severe challenge from new parties and
younger generations. Old national borders are being questioned
and changed. Centuries of political accommodation between
religious, ethnic and linguistic groups are being questioned,
strained and severed.
Europe has seen this many times before, including after two
world wars and a cold war, but in the past, its insurrections
were accompanied by widespread violence and brutal
militarism. This time the movements, many of them provoked
by the huge recent influx on non-European populations into the
continent, so far are taking primarily forms of political action.
The British prime minister David Cameron recently negotiated
new terms for his nation’s relationship with the European Union
(EU), which had been moving towards more political union, and
not just economic cooperation. When he returned to London, his
“deal” seemed more like that of a Conservative predecessor
who in 1938 returned from Munich with a “deal” that promised
“peace in our time.” Already, one of the major leaders of his own
party, London Mayor Boris Johnson, has denounced the deal, and
says he will vote for severing British ties with the EU in the
upcoming referendum Cameron has set. The grass roots
“euroskeptics,” once ridiculed, are surging.
It occurs to me that this “revolt of the masses” has now come to
the United States and its current presidential election. Both the
major U.S. political parties, one liberal and the other conservative,
have found their leadership establishments under severe challenge
from their grass roots. Both the establishment leadership and the
establishment media are up in arms over the sudden rise of Bernie
Sanders and Donald Trump. Whether or not both, or one, or
neither of them win their party nominations, it is now clear that
American politics is being indelibly transformed. Populist
movements, of course, have arisen in the U.S. before, but not
simultaneously like this, and not only on the right and the left, but
in the hitherto “stable” political center.
The United States has a quintessential two-party system with a
bicameral congress instead of a parliament. It has always been
that way. But are we now seeing the early formation of an
American multiple party system? In 1992, the nation had a taste
of a populist insurrection with the candidacy of Ross Perot, who
for a time, actually led both the Republican and Democratic party
presidential nominees in the polls, and who received almost 20%
of the vote on election day. In 2000, a populist independent
candidate, Ralph Nader, won a smaaller percentage, but altered
The process of the election of a U.S.president has not kept up
with the nation’s changing political communications realities.
The sloppy caucuses are not credible, transparent or democratic.
The extreme differences between the various state’s practices
for choosing delegates to their nominating conventions create
opportunities for unfair advantages that don’t reflect true voter
choice. The bias of many in the mainstream media is apparently
increasingly no longer tolerated.
Finally, many in the nation’s electorate have apparently had enough
of the old way of saying things and doing things. They have
apparently had their fill of “political correctness” and political
platitudes which lead only to more and more stalemate.
In Spain, the left of center establishment and the right of center
establishment are seemingly facing an insurrection of their own,
particularly from the young and the working middle class. All
across Europe, similar movements, provoked by various causes,
seem also taking place.
Those Americans paying attention to these recent events in
Europe probably saw them as just the chronic problems of the
Old World “over there,” and concluded that our traditionally
stable system had no connection to what what taking place across
“the Pond.” But recent events in our current presidential election
suggest the “contagion” might have spread to the New World.
I have written that I have observed an unprecedented “mutiny in
the center” of American politics, a mutiny where celebrity
endorsements, journalistic editorials, and old political taboos
are being turned on their heads. Voters this year simply are
refusing to be told what they should do and who they should vote
How all of this is now going to play out, I don’t know. But I do
think something has basically changed, and there is no going back
to wherever we were.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.