Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bad Solidarity

There are an increasingly limited number of scenarios in which the Republican Party does not fundamentally change after 2016. Donald Trump would have to make massive errors (and quite frankly, I’m not sure if his base registers the idea that Trump is capable of erring) or the party would have to find a way to cheat him out of a nomination in order to avoid him headlining the ticket. It’s possible but unlikely that this results in the party reshaping itself in his image, especially since he is very likely to lose the general election.

What’s more reasonable is that the GOP will undergo some introspection in 2017, with lengthy, media-free “lessons learned” meetings. The Realignment will not be televised. What we should all hope they eventually learn is this: Not all Solidarity is worth seeking.

In 2008, the party was beaten and broken. George W. Bush and his two wars were wildly unpopular by now, and the Democrats had taken control of both chambers in 2006. The Republicans lost big in 2008, and regrouped by forming a coalition to block Obama’s policy goals at every turn. There was no ideology here, and barely a strategy, just tactics. And slowly, slowly, the necessary ideology came, built up by operatives and bought wholesale by right-wing voters: the ideology was that government was too large. The gaping ideological void in the “block Obama” strategy was too large, though, for “small government” to patch it up. And the Tea Party rank-and-file had other ideas. So, immigration. So, birtherism. So, anti-gay movements and the accompanying cry of “religious liberty”. Eventually, this “coalition of the unwilling” seemed to be rolling back much of the image of tolerance the GOP was building up over the Bush years.

Primarily, this has been a problem of Solidarity. Definitions of solidarity are tenuous and inconsistent, but let’s agree for the sake of this discussion, that it is the social cohesion of a group of people with a common, (1) organic identity. That identity must be (2) open, and members of a group showing solidarity must feel that they (3) include people that are not being served by the ruling body.

The problem with Tea Party “solidarity” and the post-Tea GOP is that its voters violate item (2): on the whole, the modern right has closed ranks to eliminate people who would have identified with them (moderate conservatives) but failed to pass the ideological gatekeepers, as well as others who might be served by conservative policies but are culturally different from the standard (cf. the party’s dismal performance with Latinos, who are generally traditional and religious).

Take this diagram as illustrative of the current problem:

It is my argument that only parties with solidarity (big tent + real community) can survive on the long term. The current GOP cannot provide the tent.

In a few more cycles, the Democrats are likely to have a similar problem, as evidenced by Berniemania. The Bernie followers have scared and annoyed quite a few people, even those who support Sanders for President. This is possibly because they feel the beginnings of a sense of solidarity, but many are too immature to express that in a constructive way. Community and communal feelings seem very unnatural in 21st Century America.  The DNC in general is very open and hasn’t yet chased out the Blue Dogs and the DINOs, but the result has been confusion as to loyalties. They call right-wing politicians out for their loyalties to special interests, then take money from and enact policy favorable to many of the same interests, especially the financial sector. The #UniteBlue movement is pale and weak, and the drive to support your local democrat is largely powered by a fear of the greater of two evils. The DNC has produced Corporatism in the place of Solidarity.

One good test of whether an esprit-de-corps is solidarity or not is this: do you feel a kinship with a group that is underserved by society? You may not actually be a member of a particular group or class, but you feel solidarity with them if you support a better life for them. Democrats have had, in the last few cycles, solidarity with the LGBTQ community. It is time for them to have solidarity with the poor as well.

The other litmus test for solidarity is this: do you feel comfortable standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people whose lives you are working to improve? A paternalistic pity is not solidarity, though it is a hallmark of the American Left in the new century. Another 2x2:

And again, here’s where the Democrats tend to fail. Rich democrats inevitably make their programs sound like pitches to start charities in the third world, rather than standing with the people they are trying to help. Plenty of American “leftists” get going when the going gets tough enough that they would have to part with goods through increased tax on their own bracket in order to pay for this assistance. Many seem to hope that giving to NGO charities will be enough to solve problems endemic to and inherent in capitalism and its consumption. It’s the Captain Planet problem all over again. It’s hard to make real change, so let’s pretend this can be solved on the demand-side.

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