With a few exceptions (McCain, Kasich, Romney (from time to time), and a smattering of second-tier Bush-ites), the lust for power and fear of a non-white-male-dominated America has led to a smorgasbord of craven kow-towing. The jettisoning of institutional values in Congress and the administration was breath-taking until it became routine. A recitation of the list would be numbing.
Rumblings about Trump continuing in politics are media noise. He may run a fund-raising/celebrity/reality show scam, but between the COVID carnage and his upcoming personal and financial travails, his cult of personality will grow quickly stale. What will be even more interesting than who seeks to assert some mode of post-Trump leadership (Haley, Cruz, Cotton?) is the question of what they will stand for. Even leaving aside the pettiness, crudeness, and idiocy of many policy decisions, there is little left of what used to be Republicanism.
In his typically unintentional irony, Trump regularly referred to any number of traditional Republicans who dared not to fall completely into (his) line as “RINOs”: “Republicans In Name Only.” (as usual, the best way to read Trumpian critiques is to reverse the pronoun, i.e., he criticizes others for his own character traits).
The problem is that such a critique assumes that there is something substantive to being a Republican. There used to be, of course, but what is left?: tax cuts and deregulation based on trickle-down economics: yes. Balanced budgets and deficit reduction: No. Federalism and deference to local groups: No. Compassionate Conservatism: No. Liberal Internationalism: No. Respect for the Military: No. Fierce devotion to individual freedom: spotty at best.
Even plausible policy positions (regardless of whether I agree with them) on immigration, education, judicial interpretation etc. have been drowned in Trumpian vitriol. Nor is it apparent who has the moral standing to bring any sort of coherent, politically viable collection of “conservative” policies to the public forum.
There may be a Republican Party going forward, but it is likely to be, itself, RINO.
The Democrats are not in much better shape. Once the target of indignation is gone, they will likely revert to their infighting, wrestling with climate, identity politics, coherent foreign policy etc. AOC has already started down this path. Other “progressives” join her in conflating policy hopes (which I generally share) and political feasibility. In our polarized political discourse, most tugging from the wings generates animosity on the other wing and fear in the center.
My argument is not about which ideology should prevail in either group, a topic that has already engaged the commentariat; rather it goes to the shells/labels/institutions which carry some set of ideas forward.
Change is in the air. The world is different, the country is different. The parties (at least their shells) remain. They are stale, corrupt, and well past their “sell-by” dates. As a political society, we are overdue for a realignment. The Nixon/Johnson switch in the loyalty of the South is fifty years old. The Progressive line up through FDR is pushing 100.
The nineteenth century saw all sorts of party births, deaths, and realignments. It’s doubtful either Adams or Jefferson would have recognized their progeny fifty years after they had passed. The British went through a tortured period of transition from Liberalism to Labour from the late 19C through WWII. Many countries have a lengthy roster of current parties and a bewildering list of historical incarnations. A substantial number have really just been personality vehicles who collapsed after their leader left the scene. Their ideological consistency has been fortuitous in the moment, and then evanescent. Is the GOP next in this line?
What may keep the shells of both Democrats and Republicans alive in the US is that they have insinuated themselves into the legal process of politics. Their sclerotic duopoly controls gerrymandering, access to primaries and election rolls. A robust antitrust model would blow them apart and re-open the political markets to competition. Why is it that taxpayers should pay for a private group to select its leaders? The Methodists don’t line up and the federal trough when they elect a new presiding Bishop, nor is Walmart’s Annual Meeting subsidized (at least directly) by the State of Arkansas. Some states go so far as to provide that in case of a vacancy in their US Senate seat, the incumbent’s state party central committee gives the Governor a short list of acceptable replacements.
The duopolistic nature of the system is most evident in the high art of electoral district line-drawing. Now armed with sophisticated mathematical models parties design districts for incumbency rather than community (with no small degree of racial and class discrimination). Early-19C Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry (and his salamander-shaped legislative district map) would be envious. The recent move in some states to neutral citizen-driven apportionment processes offers some hope on this front, but the entrenched parties and pols (and their judges) will likely make this slow going.
This is not rooted in an aversion to the “two-party” system; although splintering may be the result, at least for a while. Coalition governing is no panacea, even if it is no worse than what we have. A bit of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” is called for. Let’s shuffle the cards and see what shakes out.
Besides the structural benefits, noted above, a re-shuffle would energize the process and allow for new leadership, new alliances, and new ideas to emerge. If we need a new political culture of engagement in this country, tossing out the Ds and the Rs (or, at least, not preventing their implosion) would be a good start.