Realignment

Irrespective of the extent to which Trump’s signature policies – the wall, lower taxes, less regulation and extreme wariness regarding Iran and China – are overturned, he has fundamentally changed – and, to an extent, embodied the change in – America’s political landscape.

When I was young, the heart of the Republican Party was the WASP Establishment; the Democratic Party represented blue collar workers, classic liberals (a.k.a., ‘limousine liberals’ – who were also often WASPs) and freedom-loving hippies. The Republicans had big business, the suburbs, the country club set and the ‘mainline’ Protestant churches (in those days, the Episcopal Church, in which I was raised, was called ‘the Republican Party at prayer’); the Democrats had the unions, the cities, most Catholics, the Jews, African-Americans and all kinds of immigrants.

Republicans were for a strong military, an assertive anti-Communism and law and order at home; the Democrats were for accommodation with the Soviets, banning the bomb, and sex, drugs and rock and roll. The Republicans were lampooned as snobbish and stuffy; the Democrats were seen as fun. Both teams revered the Bill of Rights and America’s history.

My, how things have changed. The Democrats are now broadly the party of the rich, corporate America and those who depend on government spending, the Republicans of the middle class.

Tom Steyer, George Soros, Hollywood, academia, the major corporate-owned media – now including the until-recently-conservative News Corporation (!) – most large companies and even Wall Street are all on the D train.  Celebrities from the entertainment and sports worlds form a phalanx to protect progressive causes and leaders. These groups are globalist by instinct and interest – seeking the lowest cost labor for what they produce and the biggest markets for their products; to them, national borders are impediments.

The Democrats’ primary voting constituencies include government employees, academically-credentialed, professional-class near-elites resident in cities and suburbs and those of all classes and ethnic groups who are dependent on government entitlements. Their foot-soldiers are the disaffected, radicalized, generally unemployed youth who are happy to riot (and sometimes, loot), as they have little to lose themselves.   

To me, the most analytically interesting shift of support toward the Democrats is the one that has taken place among big companies and comfortable suburbanites. The town in which I have lived for decades went for every Republican presidential candidate from Abe Lincoln to GHW Bush – and none since. My neighbors are well off, but generally not wealthy, professional-class people – the very foundation of the Establishment that consists of the big corporations, media and academic institutions that now mostly lean openly left. The suburbanites who work for big companies are beneficiaries of the status quo – a happy (for them) continuation of whatever is in the interests of the companies they work for and the schools for which they paid so dearly – and as such, they are deeply conservative in a social, if not a political, sense.

The (now much smaller) mainline churches have moved, if anything, harder left than the suburbs; their clergy now seem much more concerned with the promotion of progressive policies than with saving souls one at a time. (I hold fast to a deep fondness for the Episcopal Church, and love its rite, but the services I now attend – much more rarely than I once did – feel like cheerleading meetings for the Democratic platform).

The support for Democrats among constituencies that depend on ever-increasing government spending – government employees, the beneficiaries of entitlement programs and, indirectly, the education establishment – is less surprising. For them, the economic benefit of supporting politicians who want increased spending, and increased affirmative rights to stuff or ‘free’ services, is straightforward.

And finally, the radical left supports Democrats as a means to their end of tearing down society to remake it into a socialist utopia. They see the Democrats as the Bolsheviks did the Mensheviks – useful, for now, against the common enemy of American traditionalists. They hate America’s historic emphasis on individual rights, preferring to think in terms of ethnic- or class- defined group rights. They think America’s history is a tale of unending oppression and woe. They are perfectly willing – eager, even – to riot in furtherance of their goals.

The Democrats’ coalition is formidable.  

***   

The Democrats’ elites famously see Republican voters as ‘Deplorables’. They assume that Republicans are ill-educated, uncredentialed, narrow minded and racist. (Think I exaggerate? In a pre-election editorial, The Hartford Courant’s editors posited that all Trump supporters are necessarily racist.)

Republican voters, like yours truly, naturally see things quite differently.

I wrote that Republicans are now the party of the middle class. While broadly accurate, as I think most private-sector, middle-income voters are now Republicans, many others are as well. It would be more accurate to describe Republican voters as people who hold to middle class, traditionalist – or, better, bourgeois – values. The hard-working, law-abiding immigrant who came here to embrace the American Dream, the gun-owning, blue-collar, union member who works in a factory or at a construction site and the religiously devout, poor-but-aspirational African-American are likelier to vote Republican than the women who play tennis at the club of which I am a member.

Republican voters believe that the way to get ahead is to work hard – not to expect ‘free’ things from others – and they worry that ever-higher taxes (to pay for all that ‘free’ stuff, much of it for people who work less hard than they do, or not at all) will hurt their families and strangle the economy. They think unlimited immigration will mean lower wages and more people absorbing more tax dollars that have to come from somewhere.

And they suspect, with much justification, that most of those taxes will come from them. When ultra-rich leftists like Warren Buffett talk encouragingly about increasing taxes, they mean increasing income taxes, not taxes on capital. Guess who pays income taxes? Overwhelmingly, wage earners. For the ultra-rich, wages are inconsequential.

Republican voters are proud of this country’s history and grateful for the opportunities that American citizenship gives them. They believe that the Constitution is sacred and the Bill of Rights must be left alone – they’ll keep their guns, thank you very much, practice their religions as they choose and express their opinions as forthrightly as they like, ‘political correctness’ be damned. They resent the smug sense of superiority that this nation’s elites never cease displaying and the stranglehold on public discourse that the left has built through corporate media and the major tech platforms.

They are traditionalist in that they value self-reliance and see themselves (and others) first and foremost as free individuals rather than as being defined by their skin color or ethnic background. They believe fervently in equality of opportunity and not at all in an arbitrarily created and enforced equality of results.

Republican voters think many of our public schools are failure factories, run by and for teachers’ unions, and that our colleges are more interested in progressive indoctrination and arbitrary credentialization than education. They see that our ‘elite’ educational institutions have created a self-perpetuating, intentionally exclusionary class system. Given that of all our Supreme Court justices, only Amy Coney Barrett didn’t go to law school at Harvard or Yale, they might just be right. (In several senses: https://reason.com/2020/11/11/how-elite-colleges-rip-off-taxpayers/).

Republican voters believe that the leftward drift in America’s politics threatens the very things that make this country special – the principle of equality before the law and the stupendous opportunities for individual – and ultimately communal – advancement that spring from our economic and personal liberties. They don’t want to live in a world managed by others – by the elites – they want to forge their own destinies. 

***

Most of Trump’s signature policies will almost certainly be overturned in the coming years – but I believe that his presidency will later be seen as having been enormously important (and largely beneficial). His (and Mitch McConnell’s) greatest achievement, and one that will be (almost) impossible to overturn, at least for many, many years, was the transformation of the judicial branch by seating huge numbers of federal judges – and three Supreme Court Justices – all of whom adhere to a traditionalist perspective about the meaning and weight of the Constitution. By so doing, they will be seen to have slowed the progressive legal juggernaut, which had been busy rewriting our nation’s fundamental law – the Constitution – without so much as a by-your-leave to the sovereign People.

Trump’s other great achievement, though, is that he both embodied and pushed along the realignment of our nation’s political fabric described above, thereby clarifying the issues that divide us. I believe that this realignment will last because it better reflects the differing economic interests, aspirations and values of the voters on both sides of the great divide than the older alignment.

I also believe that even though Trump seems to have gotten ‘only’ about 71m votes, perhaps 4% fewer than Biden’s apparent total*, the Republican vision is the more hopeful, inclusive and just of the two, and that, personalities aside, in the long run, with the issues clarified, it will prevail.

M.H. Johnston      

*These provisional totals were wrong in the original, as caught by a sharp-eyed, if acerbic, would-be commenter whose comment I deleted because of its ad-hominem nature; I am grateful for the correction none the less.

PS: Hah. Noticed this https://www.axios.com/rubio-gop-reset-trump-872340a7-4c75-4c2b-9261-9612c590ee14.html just after posting. Apparently, Senator Rubio came to the same conclusions.

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