Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Where are the American Political Parties Going?

Wow! It's hard to believe a presidential campaign having a worse couple of days than what has happened to Trump in the past couple 48 hour. Yelling at babies, bad-mouthing the grieving parents of a fallen soldier, going after other prominent Republicans, joking about getting a Purple Heart the day after the NYT does a cover story on Trump's draft dodging, publicly musing about the election being rigged, repeatedly asking advisors why it's not ok to use nuclear weapons, etc., etc. NBC has an interesting article on the chaos here.

It seems to me (and quite a few prominent Republicans seem to agree), that it doesn't matter that much what your politics are at this point, Trump is coming off looking seriously unstable. And if it wasn't for the so-called Goldwater Rule, I suspect that a lot more people would be actively talking about Trump's mental state at this point. NBC has another interesting article on that issue here.

One might argue, of course, that people who are challenging the political establishment are bound to be labeled by some people as "mentally unhinged." There can be, I think, some merit in this argument in as much as perceived radicals of any stripe are cutting against the grain, so to speak, so the will no doubt be the target of all sorts of criticisms. But we have a pretty contemporary comparison to Trump in Bernie Sanders, and though I heard the occasional wingnut refer to him as crazy, I think Sanders' overall stability and ability for polite and rational discourse, precluded him from being labeled as unstable no matter how radical a few of his policies might be viewed by some.

There is, of course, a lot of time to go on this campaign. And if history teaches us anything it is to expect the unexpected. However, given Trump's behavioural consistency when it comes to saying and doing wildly inappropriate things, it is difficult imagining him suddenly changing his spots, so to speak. It is hardly an insightful prediction that we are in for a wild ride for the next three months. But based upon just how wild the past couple of days have been, people have understandably begun to speculate upon all sorts of possible outcomes. Some pundits have predicted that Trump will drop out or somehow be forced to quit before the election comes. Short of some criminal indictment or some genuinely heinous act, this seems significantly unlikely to me for a couple of reasons, not least of which is Trump's ego. Can you really imagine Trump quitting this race after all that he has done? Others are speculating that even if he were to win he would quit soon after because he really doesn't have the kind of patience and concentration that it takes to do a 20 hour a day job, listening to hours of briefings that aren't just about you. This prospects makes some people plenty nervous because Mike Spence is, arguably, scarier than Trump.

I really can't even vaguely predict what will happen. The thing about someone as unpredictable as Trump is that, well . . . he makes things unpredictable. Some might say that Trump is predictable, in as much as, based on past behaviour, the next thing that he says is bound to be more inflammatory that the last. While that seems to be true, what I think we can't predict is how people will react to Trump. Frankly, it beggars description that I guy who started his campaign telling us that Mexico was sending us their "rapists," and then actively mocking a guy with a disability, could win the nomination. So I am, at the very least, ready for surprises.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that Trump's campaign continues to unravel and he loses big. What will that mean, not just for the Republicans but for the Democrats also. Will the GOP finally begin to reevaluate those antiquated ideas that seem to be making them a party of the past? Or will they continue on as they did four years ago, and even double down on their old-world notions? Or will they factionalize into more than one party? Frankly this prospect would seem to promise even more chaos since the GOP at the moment seems to be several different parties at once: a traditional Republican party that has been overshadowed for some years, a whacko religious, tea-party Party that is really just a new style of establishment party but with a much bigger corporate agenda, and an angry, old, white-people's party that, in a state of naivety that boggles my mind, actually thinks that Billionaires like Trump will oppose things like NAFTA and will build a wall on the border with Mexico.

But here is a different, but equally important question: if Hillary Clinton were to win big, what will that mean for the Democratic Party? For the past forty years or so the Democrats have transformed themselves into a party of corporate globalism and bit money. It can easily be argued that on many economic issues Hillary Clinton, like her recent predecessors, is really just a neo-liberal in socially liberal clothing. However, the Sanders campaign has demonstrated that there is a large contingent of Americans who want the old Democratic Party back, the party of FDR and Harry Truman, the pro-union party that believed that the State has a significant role to play in making society more just and equal. But will a Clinton victory in this election allow the Democrats to ignore the shifting political winds and the desires of those that they will have to count on for support in the coming decades? This should be a serious concern for the Democrats who are smart enough to see the coming change, because victory has a way of breeding complacency.

I think we can depend on one thing. The next few years, even decades, will be, as the Chinese curse says, very interesting.


Owen Gray said...

It's quite possible that Hillary will be a neo-liberal in a pants suit, Kirby. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders may have lost the battle but won the war. We'll see.

Lorne said...

I was reading how the Republicans are trying to stage an 'intervention' with Trump to make him stay on message and thereby 'reset' his campaign. It is beyond depressing to think that people may be lulled into voting for Trump if he adopts 'message discipline,' thereby making his unhinged rants a thing of the past. I know people have short memories, but this is too much, even for a cynic like me.