So..where do we go from here? What will come for the Republican party? The Democratic party? Any other parties? What will be the new configuration of things?
Everyone thought the Republican party had been destroyed by Trump. Now, on the surface, it looks like the other way around. It seems to be on top. But is it really?
We know that the establishment republicans all hated Trump, although now they are lining up to sing his praises. How long will this honeymoon last? A great number of Trump’s positions are diametrically opposed to the Republican orthodoxy. Trump is in so many ways the most left wing candidate from the right, ever. All his rhetoric about worker protection and trade barriers and business exploiting the workers by shipping jobs away would have found a welcome home in a 19th century Marxist rally. It is however anathema to the old guard in the republican party, wedded as they are to their version of free market ideology.
Trump wants to make a massive investment in public infrastructure, another old guard no-no, any government spending is bad for them. Trump also wants to dramatically reduce American involvement abroad, take a step back from Nato, and stop the whole overseas regime change agenda, also not the favored approach of the old guard. Even the areas they seem to agree on have gremlins in the details. How much will the wall cost? Who is going to pay for it? And is tackling illegal immigration one way or the other also not going to be another big government program?
Then there is the question of Trump himself. How much did he mean all the things he said? How serious is he? How much does he actually want to roll up his sleeves and get things done? How hard will he push? We have no way of knowing as yet.
So we are going to see this dynamic played out over the first year of Trump’s presidency, and it is going to be very interesting. What will the old guard do if Trump brings forward policies or sponsors legislation that goes against their orthodoxies? Will they oppose him? Then they will have to face the electorate with this opposition, even though the electorate has soundly rejected their orthodoxy. Or else they will just cave in and go along with the new agenda, in that case what do they stand for then?
So there is lots to be sorted out there. And there is lots to be sorted out on the Democratic Party side as well. They were expecting a coronation, but found themselves attending a wake, and out of power on the executive and legislative sides. Where do they go from here?
Firstly, they need a new purpose. For a long time they were the party of the working class, supported by the unions, speaking for better wages, good working conditions and everything else. With the arrival of the Clintons in the nineties, this changed. The unions faded into oblivion. The party became the party of free markets and deregulation and began to focus more on social progressiveness.
This they succeeded at wildly. The culmination of the culture wars, the wars that started way back in the sixties, was the supreme court finding gay marriage legal. That is it, the war was won. Even Trump agrees! Trump is more modern family than 1950s family, he seems to have little interest in a lot of culture war issues, and in that regards is also at odds with the republican old guard.
So the Democratic party is now a party in search of a cause. The war is over, so what do you do next? Carrying on fighting the war after it has been won has sent the party down the rabbit hole of safe spaces, trigger warnings, pronoun outrage and bathroom issues. The more it goes down this hole the less it appears to be producing anything worthwhile for the culture, and the more its efforts seem to be turning into a mindless, unbalanced obsession. In the meantime some of the working class found a new savior.
So there is all kinds of realignment happening. However if this all seems like a whole lot of rearranging of deck chairs by both parties on a sinking ship, in a way it is. The iceberg that the ship has hit, this ship of all human endeavor, whether left or right, this iceberg is the sea change that technology is bringing to everything we do. This includes how we live, how we work, where we work, how we entertain ourselves, who we socialize with, how we date, how we mate, how we get our news, what news we get, real or fake, and just about everything else.
Technology does a great many things, and it also erodes boundaries of all kinds. GPS after all works everywhere. Goods and services become easier and easier to move around. People become easier and easier to move around too. And it is around this new reality that the new centers will have to form.
With so much change and fluidity, we have to have something solid to hold onto. The new right has already starting staked some kind of a ground, around a revitalized nationalism, a call to old past myths, to old identities. The left is not so keen on this. It will be a contentious issue for quite a while going forward. One side would like a melting pot with a strong wasp flavor, the other prefers a salad bar. Its outcome is hard to predict, except that at some point there will be enough of a new generation for whom it doesn’t matter, neither for nor against. Time changes everything, mostly by rendering the old obsolete, including old conflicts.
In the economic sphere, this new right approach translates to protectionism. Is this stable, can it hold? We shall see, but simple math suggests it has challenges. If it costs two dollars to make a tie in Bangladesh(maybe one of those Trump ties), and a dollar to ship it over to the US, and if it costs 40 dollars to make it in the US, then you have two choices. Either the tie is made in Bangladesh and you can by it for seven bucks in America, or the tie is made for 40 dollars in America and you can buy it for 60. There is a price to pay for the protection. How many want to pay higher prices?
And then, technology also eliminates the jobs altogether. Regardless of where you make the tie, you won’t need too many people to make it, if you need any at all. And you will need less and less going forward. The machine will do all the work, and this is only going to progress further and further. More and more jobs will be lost not to overseas offices, but to the past. They will just no longer be needed. No protectionism will be able to save anyone from that.
This is going to be the central question for us going forward. As more and more jobs are lost to technology,where will people find work and how will they make a living? Our politics will have to address this. Clinton made one good proposal in her campaign, and this was the expanded peace corps initiative as a way to pay for college, something similar to the GI bill, except via social service. That is the first step on the path to a national minimum income. Here is a new center, one that the democratic party can occupy and find new purpose with.
Health care is too. If Obamacare goes, this is another area that the Democrats can stake a new claim, via state level initiatives. The opportunity will be ripe for states like California, Oregon, Washington and New York to institute their own version of universal health care, including single payer that the Democratic Party always wanted. And if there are big federal tax cuts, it will allow the states a little more room to collect revenue to fund this. So what are you waiting for? Get busy then!
Reports are that Trump is pushing for a public private infrastructure initiative, in an effort to create new jobs. This is another flavor of the same concept of universal income and any new center can and will be occupied by both parties. Remember mandatory health care was first introduced by Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Like universal health care, universal income too will eventually become a ‘must have’. What we will see in the future is right and left or even a plurality of parties providing different flavors of these.
We shall see then how things work out. Yes indeed, we shall.