Much of the post-DNC buzz today has been about how the convention managed to wrest back control of a lot of ideas and concepts that once belonged only to the GOP: Patriotism, a strong (but non-aggressive) military, civic duty, etc. In particular, the noise on the right has been downright apoplectic in some places. Some are angry about this, feeling their turf has been peed on; some are lamenting their party’s imminent demise under a noxious, orange mushroom cloud. Some, however, have been resigned to this for a while, now, and have officially left their party. The DNC featured not just well-known party agnostics like Michael Bloomberg, but some actual Republicans, standing up for a qualified, sensible candidate in the face of the chaos on the other side.
Color me entirely unsurprised. Pleased, absolutely, but unsurprised.
I don’t remember exactly when I started saying this, but for at least five years now, I’ve been predicting that the GOP was going to collapse completely very soon, with moderates fleeing the party and either taking up refuge among Libertarians or joining the non-radical contingent of the Democrats. I think we’re starting to see exactly that.
This has been brewing for decades, though. This latest exodus is just the end result of the Southern Strategy (and the Red Scare before it.) Getting the working class to vote against their own interests meant that the GOP had to prey on their fears instead. Commies were a good target for a while, then the Civil Rights movement flared up big, and they moved in to capture the Dixiecrats. They won that round, decisively. Had it not been for the unpopularity of the Vietnam war and Nixon imploding, they probably would have had a long, unbroken string of GOP dominance throughout the entire ’70s and ’80s. Our four years of Carter and a relatively healthy Dem-majority Congress keeping Reagan in check for a while were the only islands in what was otherwise a sea of Republicans. White men were a dominant, reliable voting bloc, and appealing to their fears and prejudices was a winning plan.
Thing is, though, they didn’t really look far enough ahead to see whether this was a sustainable strategy. What started off as just fanning the flames of racism soon became a fight against women’s rights, against the growing LGBT movement, against a drop in religious adherence. Their economic policies certainly didn’t help: the drop in family-wage jobs guaranteed that women were going to have to join the workforce, even if they weren’t otherwise active in feminism. More and more, a coalition was building on the left among people who were tired of being demonized. Add in the continuing slow rise in the immigrant population, and it was inevitable that the GOP wasn’t going to be able to keep winning elections merely by promising poor white men that they were their champions, rather than their exploiters.
Then came the monster of their own making: some of those poor white folks whose cultural fears had been stoked to earn their votes started thinking that maybe they themselves needed to get involved more directly, instead of just serving the business-oriented party leadership. The Moral Majority wing morphed into the Tea Party, and they began winning primaries against moderates and fiscal conservatives, some of whom had been in office for decades. The anti-establishment fervor that had sprung up around the Vietnam war evolved into a more generic anti-government sentiment, and things like strong civic leadership and a safety net–things that had been accepted since the New Deal–became perceived as elements of oppression. The right went radical, and I think it’s never going to come back from it now.
Over here on the left, we have our own anti-establishment radicals, but we do have an advantage: the very nature of this particular flavor of philosophy means less participation in “the system” overall. The radical right tend to be reliable voters because they’re aiming for a homogeneous America that has never existed. They’re older, they’re insular, and many live in suburbs and small communities where everyone’s a patriotic boy scout, and voting is part of the culture. Not so on the left. We instead have people convinced that voting at all is somehow giving in to tyranny, or if not that, they want to dispense with political parties entirely. They’re not actually interested in taking over the Democrats the way the Tea Party wanted to take over the Republicans–they’re trying to tear down the party from the outside, and not doing a very good job of it. Moreover, their most-fervent wing is very young, and even though Millennials are a large generation, they’re starting to age out of youthful idealism. As they settle down and get steady jobs and start having kids, they retain their social and cultural ideals, but become far more pragmatic about achieving them. It’s hard to be all that interested in radical revolution when your biggest concerns are keeping diapers in stock and taking the dog to the vet because she ate a LEGO. The increased pragmatism with a left-leaning aim has resulted in a strong progressive wing of the party that is undoubtedly the party’s future, but which doesn’t have the same tear-it-all-down nihilism of the radical right. For the most part, left-of-center people are rallying behind Elizabeth Warren, not Jill Stein.
Obviously, this election has been contentious on our side, but we have an advantage in that we’ve been building coalitions for generations, now. We listen to their concerns and adapt them to our overall platform, but we can’t easily be taken over by a radical wing because we’re used to working together for common goals, rather than abandoning people to focus on a single issue. We will undoubtedly still have some fights over economic issues (among others) between our Blue Dog and progressive wings, but we agree on so much else that we’re leaving the radical right behind, and building a new two-party system within a single party. It may yet split us eventually, but for now, we have a pretty dang strong network of allies. Our tent isn’t so big that we’re going to let in people who want to burn it down, but it definitely has room for most everyone else–including working-class white people, once more of them they realize that queer folk and people of color are not their enemies.
We are, as was been frequently noted throughout the convention, stronger together, and so long as we come out of this year without electing an actual fascist, I think the future looks pretty bright for my party. The fervor of the far right is scary right now, definitely, and I think we cannot discount it. Trump’s still getting 40% in polls, and that’s horrifying. But the comforting thing is that he can’t seem to get much beyond that, when third parties are included. He may win, of course–we cannot get complacent–and if he does so, there will be some serious, long-range damage done, particularly with potentially three SCOTUS justices to replace. But on a demographic level, appeals to bigotry just aren’t going to fly anymore as a strategy for an entire party. The future is diverse; parties that don’t embrace that reality will be left behind.