Are the Parties Losing the People?
Bernie Sanders speaks to the Democratic Party's natural constituency at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. Will the Party serve these people, or ask them to serve the Party?
by Gaius Publius
Note: This is not about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It's about change and the status quo.
I want to take a preliminary look at a larger topic than just this election, a topic I'll return to at length after the election. This first look will lean on Matt Taibbi's recent take on the apparently crashing Trump campaign. In a longer piece, I'll add more of my own analysis.
"People represented by literally no one"
Taibbi hits the nail on the head, I think, or rather, both nails, one for each of our major political parties. His overarching metaphor is this — a ruling class that's inbred, played out, self-satisfied, out-of-touch and therefore ripe for a fall. Think for example, as Taibbi reminds us, of the Romanovs, floating in an effete world of fortune-telling and mysticism as Russian soldiers starved and died on the World War I eastern front. Out of touch aristocrats, ripe for a fall.
Here's Taibbi, from the middle of the piece, making that metaphorical point (my emphases):
Trump's early rampage through the Republican field made literary sense. It was classic farce. He was the lewd, unwelcome guest who horrified priggish, decent society, a theme that has mesmerized audiences for centuries, from Vanity Fair to The Government Inspector to (closer to home) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When you let a hands-y, drunken slob loose at an aristocrats' ball, the satirical power of the story comes from the aristocrats deserving what comes next. And nothing has ever deserved a comeuppance quite like the American presidential electoral process, which had become as exclusive and cut off from the people as a tsarist shooting party.Which lets him pivot perfectly to this:
The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne. After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings....
... Which brings us to this year's Republican field. ...Taibbi's opening paragraph make this Republican-themed point as well:
There wasn't one capable or inspiring person in the infamous "Clown Car" lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.
The party spent 50 years preaching rich people bromides like "trickle-down economics" and "picking yourself up by your bootstraps" as solutions to the growing alienation and financial privation of the ordinary voter. In place of jobs, exported overseas by the millions by their financial backers, Republicans glibly offered the flag, Jesus and Willie Horton.
In recent years it all went stale. They started to run out of lines to sell the public. Things got so desperate that during the Tea Party phase, some GOP candidates began dabbling in the truth. They told voters that all Washington politicians, including their own leaders, had abandoned them and become whores for special interests. It was a slapstick routine: Throw us bums out!
Republican voters ate it up and spent the whole of last primary season howling for blood as Trump shredded one party-approved hack after another. By the time the other 16 candidates finished their mass-suicide-squad routine, a tail-chasing, sewer-mouthed septuagenarian New Yorker was accepting the nomination of the Family Values Party.
The Fury and Failure of Donald TrumpAnd near the end of the Republican part of the piece, he concludes:
Win, lose or drop out, the Republican nominee has laid waste to the American political system. On the trail for the last gasp of the ugliest campaign in our nation's history
Saturday, early October, at a fairground 40 minutes southwest of Milwaukee. The very name of this place, Elkhorn, conjures images of past massacres on now-silent fields across our blood-soaked history. Nobody will die here; this is not Wounded Knee, but it is the end of an era. The modern Republican Party will perish on this stretch of grass.
Duped for a generation by a party that kowtowed to the wealthy while offering scraps to voters, then egged on to a doomed rebellion by a third-rate con man who wilted under pressure and was finally incinerated in a fireball of his own stupidity, people like this found themselves, in the end, represented by literally no one.The Republican Party, in other words, has lost its voters. They find themselves, in Taibbi's words, "represented by literally no one."
Taibbi on the Democrats
And now on the Democratic side:
Although a lot of Clinton backers believe she's being unfairly weighed down by negative reports about the Clinton Foundation and her e-mails, her most serious obstacles this year were less her faults than her virtues. The best argument for a Clinton presidency is that she's virtually guaranteed to be a capable steward of the status quo, at a time of relative stability and safety. There are criticisms to make of Hillary Clinton, but the grid isn't going to collapse while she's in office, something no one can say with even mild confidence about Donald Trump.For Taibbi, Clinton is not a bad choice for president, but she offers what many people simply don't want, the status quo. Remember those crowds at all those Sanders rallies? Those people are the Democratic Party's natural constituency in this time of change. Who will serve them?
But nearly two-thirds of the population was unhappy with the direction of the country entering the general-election season, and nothing has been more associated with the political inside than the Clinton name.
The Status Quo in an Era of Change
Two points on the Democratic Party's choices, with fuller explanations later:
1. This "time of change" is now almost a decade old. Barack Obama rode into office on a wave of hope and change, following the economic collapse of 2007-2008. People wanting real structural change is not a one-cycle phenomenon. It's not going away.
2. If the Democratic Party does not in future serve the people in its natural constituency — I don't mean "appear to serve" them, but actually serve them — if the Party doesn't bend to them, and requires instead that its constituency bend to the Party — then both parties will have lost the people.
To put it more plainly: If Hillary Clinton enters office, as it looks like she will do, determined to ignore the masses who don't want more of the status quo, the Democrats' natural constituency will also find itself, in Taibbi's words, "represented by literally no one."
And that's where things stand in the country. Are both parties losing the people? It's the third quarter of the political game of the century, and the opponents are not the parties, but the bipartisan system and those they represent. You don't want to live in a system that frustrates and battles those they represent.
I'll leave it there for now. As I wrote at the top, this is not about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It's about change and the status quo. (It's also about the "consent of the governed," if you think about it. But be careful. The ramifications of that line of thought will keep you up at night.)