The Future of the Democrats (and the Republicans too)

Matt Yglesias has an interesting point on the future of the Clinton coalition in the Democratic Party.  The argument in a nutshell:  the prospects of a centrist Democratic Party are as good as that of the Republicans relying on the working class white votes.  The minority, the young, and what’s left of the union votes that currently constitute the Democratic coalition are not terribly interested in a Center-Right agenda as the Democratic Party offers today.  Insurgencies from the left are likely.

Unfortunately, Yglesias does not know history:  this has happened before, between 1978 and 1980.  It is largely forgotten that Jimmy Carter was actually a conservative Democrat and that he was reviled by the Left for that very reason.  Ted Kennedy challenged Carter, both politically and electorally, and I always wondered if the working class voters he activated contributed to the Reagan victory in 1980.  This experience certainly did not deter Clinton then Obama from leaning ever more to the right and largely abandoning the unreliable and politically incorrect working class white voters to the Republicans–if they bothered to vote, which many of them do not after decades of neglect.

Like it or not, a coalition built on high propensity voters who can be mobilized cheaply, based on identity and symbolic politics of various kinds–ethnic politics, religious politics, gender politics, etc–is the norm for both parties now.  In a nation built on a great diversity of identities and symbols that don’t naturally overlap, I can’t but worry that this is inherently destabilizing–it certainly seem conducive to subverting trust in the authority.  The “Bud Light” voters, who have no taste, are the runt of the litter who are being neglected, and for good short- to medium-term political reasons too.

I can’t but worry about the repeat of the politics of 1980s in Venezuela:  collapsing oil prices required serious adjustments in the politics of redistribution, with more flowing to those who were politically connected and much less those deemed less valuable.  The latter supported the coup by Hugo Chavez, and, even after the coup failed, he was duly elected president anyways.  Trump is now playing the role of Chavez, promising another “Bolivarian” revolution…or he would if we in norteamerica cared much for Simon Bolivar.

Is this something to be fearful?  That is harder to tell:  Bolivarian Venezuela is a mess, although it has also provided a surprising amount of economic and social benefits to the formerly less privileged.  While the supporters of the regime will insist that this is the work of CIA, and there is some truth to it, no doubt, it is also the product of the de-institutionalizing, chaotic style of politics that Chavez and his acolytes brought that deliberately fostered social chaos, a little bit like the Cultural Revolution of Mao, instigated for similar political aims, although a bit more ordered perhaps.  I don’t see Trump reprising the role of Hitler.  I can, however, trump replaying Chavez, on a bigger, messier scale.


6 thoughts on “The Future of the Democrats (and the Republicans too)

  1. frozengarlic March 22, 2016 / 7:01 am

    Unlike Chavez, Trump is not promising massive redistribution to working class whites. He is promising a massive regressive tax cut that would bring enormous benefits to the tycoon class. Also unlike Chavez, Trump has no connections in the military and security apparatus. Chavez could physically repress his opposition; Trump won’t have the machinery to do that. I think Trump is more likely to be a repeat of Alan Garcia Perez, an outsider who was completely unable to enact any of his campaign promises and eventually betrayed his voters by embracing neoliberal policies. (Ominously, Garcia led to Fujimori.)


    • anon9999 March 22, 2016 / 3:17 pm

      I always thought Obama looked like Garcia, with a pinch of Fujimori thrown in. What always made me uneasy about the “Esperanza y Cambio” nonsense was that it sounded way too much like Fujimori’s 1990 slogan (in fact, almost literal ripoff.) Garcia, before Fujimori, of course ran on “Hope and Change” BS too…and got nothing done, due to underestimation of the problems with the party system that goes beyond rhetoric–like Obama.

      Trump has been drawing all sorts of sinister comparisons due to his (again mostly rhetorical) disregard for constitutional checks and balance and penchant for violence, coupled with outsize super-nationalistic nonsense (sounding remarkably like the Bolivarian nonsense coming out of Chavez), the reality show shtick (remember that Chavez ran his own reality show while he was the president!), and a seemingly implicit promise of massive redistribution if not an open advocacy thereof (he is unclear on how he’d pay for it, but he is promising a “wonderful” new national health care system, a big infrastructure program, and a vigorous defense of Social Security and Medicare–oh, and there’s a tax cut too, but it is now getting rather little attention.). They are not quite Chavez, and if Trump were running as a Democrat, rather than a Republican, I suspect he would probably have dropped the tax cut addendum altogether. He is certainly tearing up the fabric of party politics…although not to the extent that Chavez or Fujimori did (perhaps rather like Garcia…)


  2. frozengarlic March 22, 2016 / 7:12 am

    I’m a little uneasy with the basic premise, which as I understand it is that redistributive politics leads to stable coalitions and symbolic politics leads to unstable coalitions. Don’t forget that symbolic politics can bring about important material changes, even if no government funds flow into someone’s pockets. It makes a big difference financially to gay people if they are not constantly at risk of being fired from their job if outed as gay. It makes a big difference to African-Americans if they can expect encounters with police to go according to the rules (as educated whites can assume they will). And even when there isn’t a material payoff, symbolic coalitions can be stable. What material advantage do abortion opponents get? I can’t see any, but abortion opponents consistently mobilize and turn out as part of the Republican coalition.


    • anon9999 March 22, 2016 / 3:22 pm

      Well, it is an extension of the Mayhew’s idea on symbolic politics: he argued that a lot of politics in Congress would be either local and particularistic or symbolic of nondivisive sort–a lot of talk about totally innocuous and uncontroversial things. But once the conceit of universalism is broken (which Mayhew did not consider plausible–IF Congress were to remain stable.), divisive matters start creeping in: actual partisanship, cost-cutting on pork, and divisive symbolic politics, and so forth. So going after Mark McGwire on steroids, apparently, is not controversial…but Roger Clemens is apparently (is the latter big in TX Republican circles or what? Mayhew’s example was that, once McCarthy started going after the army, it got too controversial and he had to be stopped….so the state department = McGwire and the army = Clemens?)


    • anon9999 March 22, 2016 / 3:06 pm

      The situation in Wisconsin reflects the situation elsewhere (and my theory of agenda and turnout.). Republican regulars hate Trump. Those who love Trump are the marginal voters (in terms of political participation) who tend to vote Republican if and when they do. What I’d been theorizing is that a party chooses its agenda in response to expected turnout: accommodate those who are likely to show up while neglecting those who are not, exacerbating further the turnout gap–no reason to bother voting if you are being taken for granted and all. This addresses the “What’s the matter with Kansas” question: working class whites being screwed by the Republicans are NOT voting for Republicans…at least not that much. It is just that they are not voting Democratic either because the Democrats are equally bad, for all the polarization, by the metrics that they value. But they are voting for Trump…while the regular Republicans are being courted by Clinton in anticipation of Trump candidacy.


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