Monday, February 6, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Contests For The Soul Of Two Parties

The two major U.S. political parties are undergoing internal
competitions for their ideological bases, and these contests
are likely to continue for some time without full resolution.

The Democratic Party, after the campaign disaster of Hillary
Clinton’s candidacy, is being pulled to the left by those who
Mrs. Clinton defeated for her party’s nomination. The
Republican Party, after Donald Trump’s upset victory for the
presidency, has been divided by a new working class base and
its old elite establishment. Both of these parties face this
ideological division, and its disruption, with no “winner” in

Democrats generally were traumatized by Mr. Trump’s
unexpected victory, and understandably continue to oppose
the new president actions and initiatives. Conservative
opponents to Mr. Trump continue to be unnerved by his
electoral success, and remain relentless in their criticism of

Underneath this political behavior, however, both parties are
undergoing transformational alterations that are likely to
change elections in the near, intermediate and long-term
campaigns ahead.

As I have pointed out numerous times, this kind of political
upheaval is happening throughout North and South America
and Europe. Brazil, the largest nation in its continent, is
moving rightward after a period of lurching to the left.
New polls in Germany, long the most powerful and most
stable European partner in the European Union (EU), indicate
that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s relatively centrist coalition
is breaking up as a new national election approaches. Mrs.
Merkel still leads, but a credible scenario for her possible
defeat (once unthinkable) has now appeared for the first time.
A similar phenomenon has occurred in France, whose
presidential election comes very soon. The third major power
in Europe, the United Kingdom, has already opted to leave the
EU, and the major opposition party to ruling UK Conservatives,
the Labour Party, has dramatically withered in national support
as it moved strongly leftward. In these countries, and in many
other Western nations, the major political parties are undergoing
protracted ideological “mitosis” (a term from biology describing
cell division).

The U.S. version calls to mind a similar transformation 150 years
earlier, and change so indelibly described by Abraham Lincoln in
remarks (in the form of a letter) to Boston Republicans in 1859:

“Your kind note inviting me to attend a Festival in Boston,
in honor of the birth-day of Thomas Jefferson, was duly
received, My engagements are such that I cannot attend.

Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago, two
great political parties were first formed in this country,
that Thomas Jefferson was the head of one of them, and
Boston the head-quarters of the other, it is both curious
and interesting that those supposed to descend politically
from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be
celebrating his birthday in their own original seat of
empire, while those claiming political descent from him
have nearly ceased to breathe his name everywhere.

...... I remember once being much amused at seeing two
partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their
great-coats on, which fight, after a long and rather
harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself
out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two
leading parties of the day are really identical with the
two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed
the same feat as the two drunken men......”

(Mr. Lincoln’s remarks might be especially uncanny because, like
the pro-slavery Democrats of his time, the Democrats of 2017
have also recently tried to erase Mr. Jefferson, a one-time
slaveholder,  from their history.)

It took another seventy years for the Democratic Party to regain
its liberal character (while the Republican Party reverted to its
conservative character, abandoning the progressive Theodore
Roosevelt). And now, seventy years after that, it is the Republican
Party which is appealing to working class Americans while the
Democrats increasingly appeal to the ideological plutocrats.

But there are elements in both parties which are resisting these
trends, and openly competing for new voters. This complicated
competition, it would appear, will not be concluded soon.

It’s likely going to get noisier and more confrontational for much
time ahead. Representative democracy is not a quiet pastime.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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