The Chinese Curse: American Style

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Feb 29, 2016 (San Diego) “May you live in interesting times.” This is a well known Chinese saying and we are about to taste it. Major media outlets, such as CNN and MSNBC, have finally said it. We might see the collapse of a major American party. That wold be the Republicans. They are now thinking of running a third party candidate. Chuck Todd compared this to the Whig collapse of 1852. Wolf Blitzer at CNN just said the word collapse. I have seen the trends for this moment for years. So let me count some of the markers for this. They are political and economic. They explain both the civil war in the Republican party and the base revolt in the democratic party. The latter, we really cannot call it yet an outright civil war. Thought there are some cracks showing

So first, the Republicans.

The first, you might say the prehistory of this was actually the Speakership of Newt Gingrich. During that speakership he ordered his party members to stop doing things like going out for a drink after work with their democratic counterparts. In fact, that speakership started to set the tone that has led to the current dysfunction in Congress.

Admittedly this disfunction started earlier but his time as Speaker is the most obvious marker of a set of attitudes, that quite frankly, do not belong in the political system we live in. The United States Congress is not Parliament and the President of the United States is not a Prime Minister. You cannot have a vote of no confidence in the United States Congress and collapse the government. If we did, the government would have collapsed as often as the Italian government over the last twenty years.

Under his watch we also saw the persecution of a President and over the last four year of the Bill Clinton administration; we also saw the impeachment of the President. It was an ugly period of recent history.

The second marker for this was actually the George W Bush administration. Bush came in as a reformer, intending to modernize the party. But with that he also rejected one of the legs of the party. This is the religious right. Yes, an office was put in the White House to promote religious charity. That would be the Faith Based Initiative, but he also enacted some policies that were not popular with the base. Among them was the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Many of the promises made over the years, including getting rid of abortion rights in the United States, were not quite delivered. While these days they feel they are close, the base is not too sure this will happen. This has angered that part of the base.

The other part of the base that was angry were Reagan Democrats, They felt that they got nothing for voting Republicans in. They were promised all these things, including a stop to immigration,which never came, and they felt dumped on. 30 years and they had little to show for it.

At the end of the Bush 43 administration it was best to remain quiet and essentially disappear into private life. And then came the Tea Party rebellion of 2010. The rebellion wants nothing more than a small government, and while not libertarian, as Senator Rand Paul found out, they are still a force for change. They have no trust in the government though some would like to keep social security.

They are strange, because many of them are those same Reagan Democrats, They still want some government in their lives. But none of what they were promised has been delivered.

Democrats

Like their counterparts, over the course of the years they have become less able to compromise in Congress. This is not a case of both do it though. Republicans have the lion share of this problem, but the base has pushed Democrats to be less willing to compromise. Still, on major items, like the Grand Bargain of 2012, the Republicans let go of it, becuase they only could get 90 percent of what they wanted.

While this might have saved Social Security as we know it, for the moment, it soured the progressive leg of the party base. The progressive base was hopping for hope and change, and they got a Grand Bargain instead. Then there is another aspect that affects both parties, This is the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that saved the economy, but bailed out the banks. In this both Democrats and Republican base voters were outraged. None of these people, who were responsible for crashing the economy, faced the music. TARP would have been more palatable if any of the bankers, such as those running Goldman Sachs, went to jail.

This led to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which took over plazas and streets, and for a moment saw people from multiple walks of life, and politics, talk to each other.

In our mind the Democratic Party is behind the Republicans in this internal war, but not by much. The Democrats have seen Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard step down from the DNC, and endorse Bernie Sanders for President,

They have also seen somebody leak internal polls to the New York Post that seem to place the state of New York at play for Donald Trump during the general election.

Now, how much stock we can put in an internal poll is not the question, though the implications of that poll are severe for the Clinton bid for the White house. The fact that it was leaked speaks to at least severe tensions within the New York Democratic Party. It might indicate a deep, but less obvious, civil war as well.

Who Else is Running?

We have the list of perennial candidates from third parties that never register in our two party system. That said the ballot could bet a lot more crowded this year. For starters a while ago former New York Mayor Mike Bloomerg threatened to launch a third party run if either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump made it to the ballot.

We now have the Republicans talking a third party run. Not all Republicans mind you. We suspect this is the business faction of the party. We also now know, from reporting in the Intercept, that the Neocon faction is also going to war with Trump.Lastly Jesse Ventura is now saying that he will run for president if Bernie Sanders looses the Democratic nomination.

In any other year, Ventura would be bluster, and the Republicans are on a very tight schedule to find a candidate and quality for the general election ballot. So in the end it might still be, Hillary Clinton and Trump. We quite frankly give better odds of Bloomberg qualifying since he started that process a while ago, but none should discount a 3 or 4, or gasp, 5 person race. This is quite frankly, as we wrote in December, a very unusual electoral cycles.

So we must ask, what is driving all this?

Economics

What is driving all this? We have one party collapsing, another in the midst of a civil war. Well, to quote James Carville during the 1992 election: “It is the economy, stupid.”

Let me explain, the American middle class is under assault. It started to be obvious in 1981 when President Ronald Raegan dissolved the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). This started open warfare against the union movement, that has not stopped, or slowed down. This war has led to wage stagnation, the collapse of the middle class, and in general a malaise in the United States.

Workers feel the system is rigged, and they have seen both parties play a role in this. Starting with Reagan and PATCO, but continuing to the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by Bill Clinton. Then we continue to a series of free trade agreements, with President Barack Obama promising to sign the Transpacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP), as well as it’s European counterpart.

Workers have seen the systematic deindustrialization of American cities, which has also led to poverty, and low wage service jobs. Americans know this, whether they are a Democrats or Republicans, or Independents, they know it. They also know that they work hard, but they seem to be unable to get ahead. So one side blames Wall Street, and the other blames immigrants. Essentially both are blaming the economic inequality that is actually far worst than they think.

The fact is that something is amiss, and people know this. People also know that it does not matter what they ask their government to do, A perfect example is the Sandy Hook shooting, people wanted background checks by very large majorities. At one point polling had this at over 90 percent. Congress still refused to do anything about it. If a company wants preferential treatment though, and they donate to a campaign, they will get whatever they want. This is exactly what the Princeton Study found, that we are an oligarchy. Our voices, the people’s voices, do not really matter. If you are poor do not bother, The middle class will rarely gets what it wants and those with money do regularly.

Then there is social media. Communications have accelerated to the point that they are disrupting the two party system. The New Yorker has an extremely good piece on this. They went on to explain some of this as follows:

“But to call the current state of affairs, in either party, a political revolution isn’t altogether accurate. The party system, like just about every other old-line industry and institution, is struggling to survive a communications revolution. Accelerated political communication can have all manner of good effects for democracy, spreading news about rallies, for instance, or getting hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition lickety-split. Less often noticed are the ill effects, which include the atomizing of the electorate.”

We are in a period of disruption, and party messages are not sticking. Part of the reason, social media. We asked wether some would try to manipulate it. We are sure of it now. The American zeitgeist is changing. We are in the midst of a populist revolt. One major national party might not survive. The second is showing signs, though less obvious, that is frayed, if not breaking apart.

So to bring this home. How about San Diego? Well, the Republican party has been on life support in California for a while, If the national party collapses, we will see something else replace it. As is, party registration continues to drop. Democrats are barely holding,
Independents, on the other hand, are rising. That said, candidates do depend on parties to give them some support, and especially in lower offices, some advise on how to run. If one, if not both parties, should collapse, that will lead to some electoral chaos. This will definitely affect politics in the state, and perhaps it will go as low as cities and counties.

The rise of the independent voter also matches the atomization of the electorate. After all, these voters are not following what either major party tells them to do.

This will also affect how politicians will need to work both within and outside parties. What is driving this is discontent. People are tired of what they perceive as a rigged system. We are entering a period that might be quite chaotic. This will also lead to some serious disruption, and perhaps political instability.

 

Corrected for clarity and some typos.

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