Posts Tagged ‘political polarization’

US political polarization, past and present

February 23, 2021

Thomas Nast cartoons from the 1870s

Polarization in American public life is based on identity politics. That is, we Americans are more divided over who we think we are than over what we think needs to be done.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been more divided over race, religion, ethnic culture and region than over econom.

Or rather, clashes over economic interests have taken the form of clashes over race, religion and regionalism.  For example, the antagonism between native-born Yankee Protestants and immigrant Irish Catholics was not over questions of theology.

During the Gilded Age period lasting from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal, the Democratic Party got the votes of Southern white people, Catholics and Jews, and the Republican Party the votes of Northern white Protestants, plus African-Americans in the parts of the country where they were allowed to vote.

Even when I was growing up in the 1940s, Jews and Catholics were barred from many elite clubs and college fraternities.  Most universities had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

It was taken for granted that no Catholic, no Jew and no white Southerner could be elected President, let alone a woman, an African American or an atheist.

During the Gilded Age, leaders of both political parties were committed to support of corporate business and suppression of organized labor. 

Bribery and corruption were common and out in the open.  So was election fraud.

Class warfare during that era was actual warfare.  The most extreme example was the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, where coal company supporters bombed militant coal miners from the air.

But none of this produced a realignment between Democrats and Republicans.  Opposition to corporate domination, such as it was, took place within the two political parties or, more rarely, through short-lived independent parties.

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Why GOP administrations are transformative

February 7, 2017

I have to give Donald Trump and Steve Bannon credit.  Their administration is unpopular, most of the leaders of their own party distrust them, yet they are moving forward as if they had won a landslide victory.

I have to go back to Lyndon Johnson before I can find any Democratic President who has acted so decisively on taking office.

This is part of a pattern.  Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush were transformative Presidents.  Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not.   What Clinton and Obama basically did was to normalize the changes that Reagan and G.W. Bush brought about.

Michael Kinnucan, writing in Current Affairs magazine, said the difference between the two parties is that the Democratic leaders always try to position themselves in the moderate center, while the Republican leaders continually redefine where the center is—

Ending Medicaid isn’t an obvious or an easy fight—it’s a very efficient program that’s been part of the American social fabric for 50 years, a program with 70 million beneficiary-constituents, one vital to the survival (economic and otherwise) of some of the most photogenically unfortunate people in America (families raising kids with major disabilities, for chrissake!) and a major source of business for the gigantic and very widely geographically distributed healthcare-provision industry.  It’s also very popular; only 13% of Americans support slashing Medicaid. And no wonder: 63% of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member has been covered by Medicaid at some point. It’s not even arguably in any kind of crisis; there’s no obvious reason to touch it.

So for Republicans, going after Medicaid is picking a big fight, one they could easily dodge.  But that won’t stop them.  They know that destroying this kind of program is key to their vision for America, both ideologically and in terms of budget math.  They’ve known it for years, and they’ve been releasing plans and focus-grouping and developing consensus for years in the wilderness, and now they’re tanned, rested and ready.

And for 95% of their congressfolks it’s not even a question—they’ll vote yes.  They’ll do it in the smartest possible way, too: they’ll say there’s a fiscal crisis and it’s necessary, they’ll say it’s not a cut it’s just market efficiency, they’ll use block-granting to disown the cuts that happen and lay them on the states, and then wait till the cuts reduce the program’s popularity to mop up what’s left.  Most Americans won’t really believe anyone would do what the GOP is about to do until it’s too late.

And hey, maybe they’ll even lose a couple of Congressional races over it, but the Dems won’t be in a strong enough position to reverse the cuts for years and years, and starting a program like this is much harder than ending it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Source: Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

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Obama on why he’s a such a polarizing President

February 12, 2015

While President Obama is right about polarization and excessive partisanship, we also have too much bipartisanship around the wrong things—protecting Wall Street, perpetual war and secret government.