The Past, Present, and Future of Our Political Parties

By JONATHAN V. LAST – – – – –

I admire Tom Edsall a ton. Like Robert Putnam and Phil Longman, he’s smart and honest and interesting and you don’t have to be a fellow-traveler to profit from reading him.

Edsall had an interesting piece last week. There’s a provocative headline—“Is Trump Wrecking Both Parties?”—but what Edsall is really doing is looking at what has happened as the Republican and Democratic parties have continued to sort themselves out over the last 16 years.

The short version is that blue-collar and middle-class voters, who used to be the core of the Democratic party, have become Republicans—we all know that. Only slightly less well-known is that the business and professional elites—who used to be the spine of the Republican party—have become Democrats.

So far, so good.

As an old-school Democrat, Edsall does not much care for this swap—he thinks the Democratic party has been ill-served by globalism and its barely-restrained embrace of free-market ethos:

If current trends continue, not only will there be a class inversion among the white supporters of the Democratic Party, but the party will become increasingly dependent on a white upper middle class that has isolated itself from the rest of American society.

Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.

Which brings Edsall to Donald Trump:

From this vantage point, Trump and the pro-social insurance populist right that has emerged in much of Europe are as much the result of the vacuum created by traditional liberal political parties as they are a function of the neglect of working class interests by conservatives.

From where I sit, there’s a lot to agree with in Edsall’s analysis, not only descriptively, but proscriptively. As Edsall points out, the key question of 2016 may not be who wins the White House—that seems more settled with each passing week—but rather what happens to Trumpism without Trump. Does Trumpism become a corrective for what conservatives and Republicans have gotten wrong in regards to globalization, capital, and markets, over the last 20 years? Or does it become a trap, luring Republicans toward authoritarianism and its own brand of identity politics?


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