What is happening to the political parties in the United States? The Democratic Party is not just leaning left, it is marching left to the tune of the communist anthem the Internationale. The Republican Party is in the thrall of an erratic narcissist who is making the party comfortable for white supremacists and armed militias. The American people are not just scratching their heads at these transformations, they are pulling their hair out in frustration and anger. They feel deserted by their own parties and left adrift in a sea of acrimony and intolerance.
But this radicalization of politics is not uniquely American, it has been happening across the globe. Traditional political parties throughout Europe and Latin America have been outflanked by new outlier parties on the right and the left. And these parties have been winning votes and legislative seats in large numbers and even forming governments. Right wing parties have been gaining ground in Northern Europe. The Sweden Democrats are now the third largest party in Sweden, the Danish Peoples Party is the third largest in that country, Alternative for Germany is now the third largest party there, and the Five Star Movement in Italy helped form a coalition government with the conservative Northern League.
A similar story plays out in Latin America but on the left. Hugo Chavez created the Fifth Republic Movement (now the United Socialist Party or PSUV) in 1997 and won the presidency in 1998. Evo Morales created the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) in 1998 and won the presidency in 2005. Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador (better known as AMLO), after stints in the left wing of the long-governing PRI, split with the governing party to help form the further left PRD in 1988, and then formed his own way left party (Morena) in 2014 before going on to win the presidency in 2017.
It even happened in France where Emmanuel Macron formed the new political party, En Marche! in 2016 and went on the win election over traditional rivals in the same year and also won the national assembly as well the next year.
It is much the same in the United States, except that it is the traditional parties that have become the outliers. The Democrats have moved from working class unionism to civil rights and the welfare state to outright socialism. The Republicans have moved from the local chamber of commerce to big business and now, in a reversal, to anti-globalist right wing populism.
But what has driven people across the globe away from the traditional political parties? The pundits say that the people have become disillusioned about democracy. That democracy has not delivered the life they anticipated. They are angered by the corruption and cronyism. Globalization has taken their jobs overseas, or if you are overseas globalization has taken you off your farm and put you in a foreign-owned factory at slave wages. And modern technology is threatening to take away even more jobs. People feel financially insecure and democracy is not doing enough to ease those fears.
People are vulnerable and fall victim to the populist demagoguery that all their problems are not their fault but the fault of other people. Immigrants. Blacks or whites. Rich fat cats and one-percenters. And the populist politicians on the left or right tell people that they are going to make those others pay. They will redistribute the unjust wealth of the rich. They will keep illegal immigrants from stealing your job. They will stop companies from outsourcing jobs overseas. But there is a high price to pay for these empty promises.
People expect too much of democracy. A democratic country cannot be better than the people that make up that country. If your democracy is a failure perhaps you share some of that responsibility. Perhaps you have three children with three different mothers and do nothing to support them. Maybe you dropped out of high school or didn’t finish college so that you can’t get a good job. Maybe you spend money on drugs or liquor and don’t save anything for the future. Maybe you vote for politicians for what they offer to give you instead of politicians with the fortitude to do the right thing. Maybe you don’t like it when someone tells you the truth.
It is true that democracies are full of slimy dishonest politicians and greedy businessmen. But these people exist in every society, whether a democracy, kingdom, dictatorship or socialist state. People are actually worse off in any other form of society than in a democracy. In a democracy, at least the people have the opportunity to vote out slimy politicians. And they can vote to regulate businesses to limit greed and corruption. In other societies you cannot vote out slimy politicians or control greedy businessmen. Instead they run the system. They are in charge. The only way to get rid of them is through bloody revolution and people are only willing to take this option when they have been driven to the utmost desperation.
But if other forms of government are worse and the populists of the left and right only give false remedies, then what are the people to do? They need to preserve the country’s democratic institutions. These are the first things that populists and dictators try to get rid of. We must limit the power of government and retain checks and balances that block access to the levers of power. We must preserve civil society. Civil society that diffuses power from central authority is also attacked by populists and dictators; the unions, the business associations, the special interest groups as well as many other civic and charitable organizations that make up a democratic society.
Niall Ferguson pointed out in his book, The Great Degeneration, that the government can provide services more “efficiently” than non-profit organizations in areas such as healthcare, education, disaster relief, etc. Not to mention symphonies, museums and all sort of other civic organizations. But government, even well-meaning government, can quickly crowd out citizens and the fabric of the democratic society becomes thin and begins to shred.
But if our traditional parties have deserted us and we want to create a new political party for the American people, what should be its platform? Americans seem confused as to what that political platform should be and what is the appropriate role of government? I think that we can get a clue from all the people that are trying to come to America. They are not coming here for generous welfare benefits and entitlements. So maybe welfare entitlements are not the essence of what makes America so attractive to people around the world.
And they are not coming here to become second class citizens in a dominant white culture. Most of the people desiring to come to the United States are not white people from Europe, they are all sorts of different colors and ethnicities coming from Asia, Africa and South America. Why is that?
They are coming here to be free to pursue their own unique American Dream, a dream that is denied them in their home countries. White supremacy or a massive welfare state are not the only choices we have. They do not make up what is great about America. The personal liberty to make your own decisions and the economic freedom to try and achieve your American Dream are the essence of America and the role of government is to provide a framework that allows people to have that ability.
But before we turn over the country to all the immigrants trying to scale our border walls. We need to make sure that all American citizens have the ability to pursue their own unique American Dream. We need to trade entitlement for empowerment. Entitlement assumes that we are in a zero-sum game. A win-lose scenario. Empowerment assumes unlimited possibilities. A win-win scenario.
It will not be easy to change an entitlement society into an empowerment society. It will take time to build the human capital necessary to take on the challenges of empowerment. To change from dependence to independence. And the people within so-called disadvantaged groups must also take some responsibility. But government can help. Government can provide schools that prioritize the education of future citizens over improving the self-esteem of supposed victims. It can break down barriers to getting that first job in order to begin developing the skills to last a lifetime of productive effort. It can change laws that penalize married couples so that more kids can grow up in two-parent families. Looks like we are starting to see a platform for our new party.
The world is becoming increasingly dangerous for free peoples. And both the Democrats and Republicans are offering us dark visions of an unrecognizable America. 2020 has been a terrible year and we appear to be at a crossroads with dark pathways into the unknown. Perhaps this is the dark before the dawn of a new era. But if the new era is to be one of hope and promise, then it is up to us to make it so.