A few weeks ago when Hillary was surging in the polls, analysts and pundits of all kinds were wondering how one political party would resurrect itself from the ashes after the election. They’re still wondering – but now it’s the other party. The Democrats, which once had Clinton’s victory within its grasp, are in dazed confusion. But make no mistake, the choices facing the Republican Party may in time prove even more challenging.
In retrospect, the Democrats made a major mistake: they overlooked the difference between the middle class and the working class. As Bernie Sanders and others continually emphasized, globalization and the accompanying devastating growth of inequality has clearly hollowed out the middle class. However, this has not equally affected all former members of this cohort. There remains a cadre of professional and managerial people who are generally still doing fairly well. These largely well-educated suburbanites may be Democrats, understand the anti-globalist and anti-corporate rhetoric, and sense the job insecurity and inequality growth, but they haven’t felt it yet. This is the middle and upper echelon of the deteriorating middle class. They may sense that they’re an endangered species, but are hanging on, and smart enough to know better than to vote Republican.
The less well educated more rural former occupants of manufacturing jobs, however, have unceremoniously dropped out of the middle class. (Or is it “kicked out…?”) This is a hurt and angry cohort willing to strike out at any likely villain, and certainly willing to buy the bellicose incoherent rantings of a charismatic Donald Trump. It makes no difference that they mistakenly demonize government rather than corporatized private sector behavior for their plight, or that their chosen leader offers no shred of a concrete plan to rescue them — the “elites” need to be stomped on.
Certainly, it can be argued that this group, many of which are tea party or Reagan Democrat types, haven’t had much affinity for the Democratic Party for a long time, but the Party, beyond Bernie, didn’t reach out to them with any fervor or noticeable new policies. The result was a lack of enthusiasm, especially among the young, that resulted in enough losses on the margin to turn the tide.
Now for the Republicans. The divisions in their party are actually more severe, but a certain giddy fuzziness infects your thinking when you win. Eager to begin exercising power, they happily talk of “unification” and being the leaders of all Americans. Daily we see a disgusting display of forgetfulness of recent vicious insults between fellow Party members. Further, they extend gratuitous invitations into the fold to women, religious, cultural and ethnic minority groups which were absolutely savaged during the campaign.
In the immediate future, the Republican decision is a painful one – though in the rosy glow of victory, they may not yet realize that. The GOP was on the verge of concluding that their unruly tea party base had led them to ruin – but now it has helped lead them to victory. Embracing this base acknowledges that you are officially the party of hate, racism, bigotry, homophobia and worse. Does it disturb them that the Ku Klux Klan is rejoicing in their victory, or is winning all that counts?
We have ignored many pertinent issues of policies and politics that will soon unfold before us. Beltway jockeying. Presidential appointments. Supreme Court. Health care. Immigration, and the list goes on. But the table is set for both parties, and it will be fascinating, if painful, to watch. Stay tuned.