Having gone over the problems with the current two-party setup, it gets to the matter of why we need to even consider alternative “third” parties. Why not just wait out this bad patch? Why not hope the Democrats and Republicans will just get back to normal? Well, as I’ve said, part of the issue with a two-party “first past the post” system is that if there is no motivation for anyone to vote for other than the two current ruling parties, likewise those parties have no motivation to seek votes from anyone other than those who already take their most partisan positions. This is part of why America has one of the lowest voter-participation levels of any democracy, because participation of the majority doesn’t matter, only the participation of those who are motivated to show up.
The usual result of this in politics is a “polarization” where the two parties operate at extremes – the Democrats were peaceniks who wanted a strong welfare state, Republicans were warhawks who wanted to do away with the safety net – but the result of the last few election cycles has been something similar but not identical to what is meant by polarization. The drive to the extreme has taken place mainly on the Republican side, as practicality is deemed inferior to ideological purity. This is where we get internal insults among conservatives like “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) or “cuckservative.” This is the cycle that got Republicans from the mainstream Right to the Tea Party to the “alt-right”, where “alt” is short for “alternative” and thus “alt-right” means “an alternative to being right.”
In turn, the result of that internal purge is that the Democratic Party looks more attractive to “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” ex-Republicans, or even some socially conservative voters who can no longer keep up with the Right’s version of political correctness. Being an essentially pragmatist party, the Democratic Party can handle “political immigration” better than the Republicans can. This has caused criticism within the more left-wing parts of the Democratic Party because of their leaders’ willingness to accommodate Big Business while dragging their feet on “progressive” social issues, but then, the Democrats are the ones winning presidential elections, and thus setting the national agenda. Their own internal weaknesses have caused them to fall behind in Congressional elections and state governors’ races, but as the Republican Party continues to make itself less attractive, even that disadvantage may lessen.
So if you’re a “progressive” or a Democrat who disagrees with the direction taken by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, you can still hope that the party’s gradualist approach will work in your favor, and that factors of social change will make the party take your position, as now seems to be happening with gay/trans issues.
If you’re a right-winger, whether libertarian or “True Conservative”, you have a much bigger problem, because “your” Republican Party doesn’t seem to be following the same direction as you whatsoever, and to the extent that it goes in any direction, it’s following the voters who are most likely to undermine the Party’s chances of electing candidates, and of getting legislation passed even if they do get elected.
And that’s because of a much deeper issue with what is called “conservatism.” The ideologues who bitch that hardcore, anti-abortion Republicans like John McCain and John Boehner are “RINOs” might be naive about what it takes for a political party to get things done, but they have a point. What IS it that Republicans want to get done? Why don’t they get serious about a constitutional amendment on abortion? What would promote American business, more freedom or more protectionism? If the Affordable Care Act is so horrible, what would they replace it with? Come to think of it, wasn’t Obamacare basically a national version of Romneycare in Massachusetts?
Conservatives don’t get anything done because they don’t know what they want. And they don’t know what they want because they don’t know what they ARE.
What does “conservatism” mean? What is it trying to “conserve? To the extent that the term has a common definition, it means not changing things, or not changing things more than required. The real problem here is that ultimately, conservatism is NOT a political philosophy. It is a governing approach TOWARDS a political philosophy.
For example, when Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, he was not trying to get rid of Leninist Communism. He was simply trying to reform it socially with “glasnost” and with greater economic freedoms (which the Soviets had actually experimented with before Stalin). But in this he was opposed by those in the Communist Party elite who preferred the previous centralized and undemocratic system. At the time, political analysts referred to this hardcore faction as “conservatives.” But doesn’t “conservatism” in America mean the exact opposite of Marxism-Leninism? Yes, in America. Because the American philosophy is liberal representative democracy, or at least what used to be called liberalism. The Soviet philosophy was Marxism-Leninism. Conservatism in Marxist-Leninist states means protecting the ideology against “reforms” that dilute its purity (in this respect, conservatives succeeded in Cuba and failed in China). So already, the fact that “conservatism” in America means protecting an essentially liberal political project creates a contradiction. (Part of which is based on how the term ‘liberal’ was co-opted by the American Left in the 20th Century before the Left decided to rebrand themselves as ‘progressives.’ More recently, though, right-wingers have been willing to say that things like opposing mandatory speech codes and religious dress codes are defenses of liberal Western civilization. Meanwhile, ‘progressives’ insist on using the term ‘neoliberal’ only in a pejorative sense, and often synonymously with the insult ‘neoconservative’, which demonstrates not only how vague and useless our political labels can be, but that the Left was probably not in favor of classical liberalism in the first place.)
Another contradiction is the idea of our free-market, classical liberal system being based in a religious conception of humanity, going so far as to being fundamentalist Christian. It is quite true that the Founding Fathers were if not Christians then at least deists who believed in God. It’s also true that their concept of God did not have much in common with the modern Republican one. It’s even more true that the crowned heads of Europe were operating on a concept of Christianity that was that much more “conservative” than what Americans conceive of, and even then, the policies between Great Britain, Ancient Regime France, Protestant Prussia and autocratic Russia differed from each other greatly.
In short, even though religion is supposed to reflect an ultimate or universal value system, it is most often a subjective one that is applied subjectively. This is why the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights made “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” part of the First Amendment. The very fact that our government does not base its policies on theology is why pluralism and tolerance of different religions is possible.
This is one reason that “liberalism” (meaning, the mainstream Left ideology that Europeans would call social democracy) largely avoids basing its modern philosophy in theology, even though many of the great liberals, from the Kennedy family to Dr. Martin Luther King, were also devout Christians. And also huge philanderers, but I digress.
Where Ayn Rand would say that the fundamental contradiction of conservatism is its insistence on conflating religious altruism with secular capitalism, I would say the issue goes deeper. Again, it is a matter of our political system applying labels long past their point of usefulness. Just as the tag “liberal” is now associated with a large amount of politically correct, state capitalist and ultimately illiberal ideas, “conservative” is a tag associated with a grab bag of ideas that ultimately cannot work together, because their only common point is that they were once thought of as traditional practices – often at different times – and therefore must be conserved regardless of whether they work now, or ever did work.
Which is where the “alt-right” and Trump come in.
According to the Wikipedia article, “The alt-right has no official ideology. The Associated Press stated that there is “no one way to define its ideology” and the BBC has called it an “amorphous movement”. “Commonalities shared across the loosely-defined alt-right include disdain for mainstream politics and support for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.”
It seems like an incoherent mess fueled by resentment. And if that seems like a great description of Donald Trump, that may or may not be coincidence. Donald Trump is not exactly a theorist, but he just happens to be saying what many on the Right have been saying when not running in general elections. They’re against “crooked” politicians and financial elites, which is why they support Donald Trump, one of America’s most crooked financial elites. They don’t care so much about abortion or the welfare state, but they do care that immigrants are using the system. They don’t care too much about gays, but they’re saying that Muslims (even in assimilated families that have been here for generations) are a threat to American culture. And in regard to that culture, they’re willing to say the most sexist things about women, but still think they’re defending our values.
The secret to Donald Trump’s political success is that Donald Trump is what the average Donald Trump supporter would be if he had money. That’s why he won against people who had lots of campaign funds and more conservative credentials. He prevailed because he seized upon an opportunity to make personality and celebrity bigger factors than consistent ideology. But that opportunity didn’t just arise out of nowhere.
Conor Friedersdorf had an excellent column in The Atlantic where he talked about how one of Rush Limbaugh’s own listeners (along with a columnist at RedState) called him on supporting Trump even when it was clear to many he would flip-flop on immigration, even when Rush said “I never took him seriously on this!”
But that’s something I picked up on a while ago. Back when I was still conservative enough to listen to Limbaugh’s show, I remembered that right up to the last week of Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign against Rick Fazio, he was predicting that she would find some reason to back out. Or that she would end up losing. Of course, she didn’t. I distinctly remember the day after the 2006 midterm elections (when Democrats under President George W. Bush regained the House) when Limbaugh angrily confessed, “I feel liberated. … I no longer am gonna have to carry the water for people who I think don’t deserve having their water carried.” Heck, way back in 1992 (when Rush had a TV show) I remember a TV Guide cover with a blurb on an article, “Rush Limbaugh: I’m so-o-o happy Clinton won!”
Other people have made this point, but whereas there used to be serious intellectual discussion in media like National Review, that has mostly degenerated to presenting politics as pure entertainment, with recognizable good guys and bad guys- much like pro wrestling- and the consequences of political action are not dwelled upon. In fact, we can see in Congress that Republicans (in direct contrast with the ‘Contract With America’ era) are not at all interested in initiating action or shifting the terms of political debate, only reacting against whatever President Obama wants, even if, as with Obamacare, it was largely their idea to start with. Even better, rather than be a party engaged in the political process (and thus either have the enemy take credit for your best ideas, or win a majority and actually have to take responsibility), always be a party in opposition so you can stoke resentment and righteous indignation. The Republicans have become like the hunter in that joke where the bear pokes the hunter in the shoulder and goes “You didn’t come here for the huntin’, didja?”
It’s almost as if a large part of the conservative base was conditioned by experience to conclude that politics is worthless, and every politician is a liar, and even when they aren’t, the system won’t let them get anything done.
Why not then vote for an outright joke? Why not vote for a candidate whose core dogmas (like ‘we’ll build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it’) cannot be taken seriously, even by conservative standards?
It’s basically the reason pro wrestling ate boxing’s audience: Everybody knows the fight is fixed, but they at least want it to be entertaining.
So if Trump has a “softening” on his core immigration policy, and even Mr. Tell It Like It Is turns out to be a lying politician, then so much the better. If Republicans continue to follow him when they know he is lying, then their self-deception is just emulating their new role model.
Or as W.C. Fields put it, “you can’t cheat an honest man.”
Conservatism today is an essentially unserious, even nihilist approach to politics, that at worst regards the democratic process as inherently flawed compared to direct rulership by a strongman, even when the strongman in this case is not very strong, intelligent or competent.
The Republicans cannot be called the GOP – Grand Old Party – any more. They are now the POT. Party Of Trump. (Which would make his supporters the POTheads.)
But in retrospect it’s not very surprising that things turned out like this, even if it is pathetic that Republican elites seem surprised that their racket got taken over by somebody who’s better at it than they are.
This attitude has been going on for quite some time, at least by the start of the second Obama term. The Republican Party has been Trump’s party for years. They were just waiting for him to show up.