In the post-Trump era, the pundit class remains obsessed with the state of the Republican Party. Is it still in thrall to Donald Trump? Does it remain committed to “democracy,” as circumstantially defined by those clutching pearls as they whisper the question fretfully? Can it sustain a sufficiently broad coalition, ranging from economic libertarians to the “Let’s Go Brandon” contingent, in order to take what appear to be highly winnable elections in 2022 and 2024?
Beneath this breathless focus on the Republican Party and its electoral prospects, a much larger story hides in plain sight. What is acceptable political discourse today, and how aberrant is it from a historical perspective?
In the first several decades of the republic, the ideological divide was between an agrarian-populist party and a commercial, mostly classically liberal party. While these coalitions marched under different party banners at varying times, the philosophies they embodied, by today’s standards, would fit neatly into the center and rightward ends of the political continuum.
The modern Democratic Party retained centrist vestiges throughout the 20th century, but by the end of the Clinton Administration its moderate wing (best embodied by the Democratic Leadership Council) was a spent force. At the presidential level, Democrats nominated increasingly left-leaning candidates (whether out of opportunism or conviction) although these candidates dressed up as centrists for general election purposes. Similarly, Democratic congressional and local candidates moved as far Left as their respective electorates would allow. Today’s Democratic congressional caucuses contain very few moderates; the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives, which counted 59 members among its ranks in 2008, now numbers only 19, despite maintaining a majority in that body.
This leftward shift in the party has resulted in a hyper-focus on finely parsed, boutique issues out of touch with the concerns of mainstream voters. The Democrats no longer seem to care about the political version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: public safety, competent service provision, and a strong economy that provides jobs and tax revenues. Ignoring the axiom that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up garbage, the party’s platform is now dominated by wokeism, interest group advocacy, anti-rationalist, and post-empirical jeremiads, and outright gaslighting (Jen Psaki, call your office) deployed to defend whatever positions the party might pronounce as intrinsically right and just.
One could credibly assert that the only serious policy debates occurring today are those between the libertarian/neoconservative and populist/nationalist wings of the Republican Party. As the John Birch, tinfoil hat, and nativist elements were purged from the party decades ago, its remaining factions resemble those from the earliest years of the republic, which constituted substantially all of American political discourse for over 150 years.
In contrast, the Democrats’ inexorable march to the Left has caused it to abandon its more centrist elements while simultaneously absorbing uber-collectivist and illiberal tendencies once thought beyond the pale of acceptable politics. Far-Left Democratic officeholders no longer shy away from the socialist label, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are not only a rising force at the local and national level, but actively count a number of Democratic Party members among their membership, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The DSA is not a formal political party, but rather a socialist organization working, by its own admission, within the Democratic Party to weaken and ultimately abolish capitalism.
Needless to say, abolition of the system responsible for lifting more people out of poverty than any other economic system in human history is not a mainstream position. Unfortunately, as doctrinaire leftism has captured the nation’s institutions and large swaths of the culture, it’s unlikely the Democrats will excommunicate their extremist wing as the Republicans have done. In fact, that “wing” now commands the core of the party organization. What was once fringe is now central.
What can be done?
No less a moral tribune and intellectual titan than Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) coined a phrase during the Trump Administration that can be repurposed and better used to animate the supermajority of Americans who do not hold far-Left positions: “push back on them . . . tell them they’re not welcome.”
It is well past time for Americans to reclaim their ideological patrimony and reject the poison of collectivism injected into the bloodstream of the American body politic. Once purged of its extremist elements, there is no reason the Democratic Party can’t revive itself as a responsible center-left party—or, alternatively, see the two major parties once again form around classically liberal and populist groupings, with Marxism consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.