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It has never been a better time to be a radical in the United States. As the system crumbles before us, radicals on all sides of the political spectrum cheer and roar as their predictions come true and the center comes crashing down. The far-right arms itself to fight for who it sees as its champion, as the anarcho-capitalists decry statism, while the Marxists and anarchists organize for revolution. The moderates, on the other hand, remain a silent majority, caught between an ideological civil war and suing for a peace that will not come.
With the election of Joe Biden, many hope that America will be on the road to recovery, after what was perhaps the most chaotic year in American history since 1969. President Biden inherits the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, a pandemic that has killed more than 540,000 Americans, a racial reckoning, and a divided America. But Biden’s Presidency, consequential as it will be, will not be the sole factor in the next decade of American politics.
On January 6th, 2021, millions of Americans were left shocked after witnessing, for the first time since 1814, a storming of the U.S. Capitol, which desecrated one of the most sacred institutions in our country’s history. The storming of the U.S. Capitol was correctly viewed by many as an unprecedented event in American history, the result of mass online radicalization and a desperate president’s attempt to overturn an election. Yet one cannot help but think the storming was the result of an overarching narrative that has played out in American politics over the last decade — a great increase in polarization and the politicization of almost every aspect of life. Indeed, research shows that almost ninety percent of members of our two parties would be ‘very concerned’ if the other party won. And while Joe Biden’s calls for unity certainly resonate with a vast portion of the country, it is unlikely we will see any sort of reconciliation in the near future. As George Orwell stated, “In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”
In 2016, Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States. Four years later, he left behind him an unprecedented movement in American politics: legal and political scandals, two impeachments, a divided America, and a legacy of tens of millions of loyal supporters and ideology. Appealing to an increasingly alienated white, blue-collar worker population, Trump’s populist rhetoric proved effective. Many Trump supporters held sentiments against those they viewed as liberal ‘coastal elites,’ who, despite advances in technology and welfare programs, had not seen the benefits manifest in their towns and cities. Such notions may also explain the spread of conspiracy theories, which often involve a group of elites plotting to take over, as, despite his bizarre and often extreme views, Trump has enjoyed an unusual amount of support. Trump in many respects embodied not only authoritarian psychology — simple, powerful, and punitive, desirable to someone who feels neglected — but offered an alternative to left-wing populism, another recent phenomenon in the United States.
The Republican party finds itself in a situation similar to 2008, except ten times worse. Similar to Bush’s exit, the GOP will make an attempt to re-strategize and leave behind the legacy of Trump. Indeed, congressional Republicans have already started to distance themselves from Trump, with 7 Republican Senators voting to convict Trump after his second Impeachment trial, and even Mitch McConnell himself decrying Trump as being “practically and morally responsible.” But the age of Trump has changed the Republican party forever — and likely not in the way traditional conservatives and GOP officials want. What once was a party of limited government, traditional values, and patriotism has now become what many call ‘the party of Trump’, a demagogic, right-wing populist party that echoes the rise of Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in Britain, and a dozen others across Europe.
The GOP now faces a divide within itself, something few could have predicted just a few months ago. Many normal conservatives feel alienated by Trump’s rhetoric and actions — from his inflammatory tweets, his various scandals, and his refusal to concede an election — but they represent a diminishing faction within the GOP. Other conservatives and the right-wing populist faction of the GOP see Trumpism as the future. Indeed, a staggering forty-six percent of Republicans would ‘disown’ the GOP and join a Trump party, while another twenty-four percent would ‘consider’ joining. Trump supporters have grown disillusioned with the party — Trump himself openly bashes Mitch McConnell and other Republican officials for not aiding him. At the same time, many anti-Trump Republicans have become disillusioned with the party, with as many as 140,000 Republicans changing their registrations after January 6th, 2021, seeing the GOP as the party of Trump. Yet for these Republicans, they find themselves politically homeless — the Democrat party continues a leftward shift, a third party would certainly be a Trumpist party, and re-capturing the GOP seems unlikely. “I thought the Republican party was going in a bad direction already, but it proved to me that Trump’s base doesn’t really care about law, order, or the country; all they really care about is Trump,” said Declan Hilfers ’21. “It’s more of a personality cult than anything else, and it looks like the GOP is having a schism as a result.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Trumpism will become the dominant ideology within the Republican party. Trumpism is certainly not dead, with over ten million more voters throwing their vote for Trump this election, and Trump commanding the highest share of the minority vote for the GOP since the 1960s. “ I think it’s too early to tell whether Trumpism will be a force for the future,” says David Pakman, host of The David Pakman Show, a nationally syndicated progressive talk show with over 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube. “It will depend on whether the Republican Party repudiates and abandons Trump between now and the 2022 elections, or not.” Trumpism is not an aberration or a fluke of the system, it is a movement, a blueprint for a political force. It synthesizes traditional conservative economics with populist economics. Josh Hawley, the youngest Senator in Congress and considered by many to be a leading figure within the populist wing of the GOP, has economic proposals that more closely resemble those of Bernie Sanders than George Bush and the rest of the GOP. Hawley supports drug price controls, student debt relief, restrictions on large corporations, and worked with Sanders himself to demand 2,000 dollar checks. If Trumpism and right-wing populism become the dominating force in the GOP, there is certainly a chance for the Republicans to head in the direction of right-wing European parties, embracing a sort of welfare chauvinism and nationalism.
The Democratic Party finds itself in a seemingly identical situation to 2008. They control both chambers of the House and the Presidency in the wake of an unpopular president. Joe Biden, former Vice President under Barack Obama, must take the lead in a severe economic crisis, in both cases the worst since the Great Depression. However, much like the Republican party, the Democratic party faces an ideological divide, one that admittedly has been far more observable, and one which has manifested itself into a large movement. Moreover, Biden’s victory was by no means by a wide margin. As reported by the Washington Post, the GOP came within 90,000 votes of controlling not just the Presidency, but the Senate and House of Representatives. Within the Presidential race alone, a flipping of a mere 43,000 votes would have been enough to tie the election 269-269, in which case Trump would have won in accordance with House delegations and election rules. Another 32,000 votes for GOP and the House would firmly be in their control, while 14,000 votes would have prevented the Ossoff-Perdue runoff election.
These margins should offer a wake-up call for Democrats. By all means, this election should have been a landslide victory for Biden. Trump presided over the worst recession since the Great Depression, a pandemic that had killed over 2350,000 Americans by the November 6th, 2020 election, and his response to the George Floyd protests was almost universally criticized. Despite this, Biden only beat Trump by the same margin as Trump won against Hillary, 306 – 232. In contrast, Obama won 365-173 against John McCain, while Ronald Reagan won 525-13 against George Mondale after a less severe economic crisis. House Democrats also bled 7 seats, a stark contrast to a strong performance in 2018. Even worse for the Democrats, Trump garnered the highest share of the minority vote and performed spectacularly among Latino voters, one of the Democratic Party’s strongest bases, flipping a county with a 96% Latino population red for the first time in a century. In other counties and states, including Starr County in Texas and Miami-Dade in Florida, Trump saw record-breaking support for the GOP and wins among Latino groups, primarily Cuban voters.
Biden’s inability to deliver a strong victory may certainly be because of poor strategy — running on merely a ‘Trump bad’ campaign certainly will not be appealing to progressives or millions who felt the benefit of Trump’s economy — but his lukewarm approach to the progressive wing of the Democratic party certainly did not help.
The progressive wing of the Democratic party offers a populist alternative to the more moderate wing that many increasingly see as corrupt and only slightly better than the GOP. They promise a social-democratic America, rallying their supporters against the one percent and fighting for universal healthcare, free education, a Green New Deal, and racial justice. Many of them openly embrace socialism — AOC, Jamaal Bowman, and Rashida Talib —and the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) will certainly become a reckoning force in the future. In contrast to the corporate facade of the current Democratic Party, the progressives are certainly a more pleasant option. And although policies like the Green New Deal are certainly based on faulty economics, not to mention the fact that Joe Biden is far closer to a Scandinavian-style social democracy than Bernie ever was, it is clear Biden’s refusal to embrace the progressive wing and create change is hurting him.
The Democratic and Republican parties are increasingly referred to as ‘two sides of the same coin,’ and discontent is growing among Americans with what appears to be a two-party corporate duopoly. If Biden is to hold the Democratic party together as left-wing populism, fueled by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, continues to rise, he must openly appeal to the progressives. In many ways, he already has. Biden pushes for a 15-dollar minimum wage, free college to millions of Americans, a stimulus package, and the canceling of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Though Biden’s policies are objectively more economically sound than those of the progressives, the Democratic party not only fails to attract younger generations by taking millions of dollars from corporations, they fail to deliver on promises such as 2,000 dollar stimulus checks and even blame progressives for their losses. This is a losing strategy. The increased division will only lead to a stronger GOP, while millions of voters continue to be frustrated at the Democratic party’s inaction. Biden should embrace the progressive wing to not only garner support but to lay the foundations for a unified Democratic party.
Criticism aside, the Democratic party still stands strong. With full control of Congress and the Presidency, Democrats will enjoy two-years, perhaps more, of strong legislative power. With a country seemingly inexorably moving toward the left, the Democratic Party may indeed shed its crony capitalism and embrace a populist platform. “I see that the Democratic Party and the country have already moved left to some degree, and will continue to in meaningful but reasonable ways,” said Pakman, regarding the Democrats.
Given the current state of American politics, the time may be ripe for a third party to rise to national prominence. Indeed, over 62% of Americans say a third party is needed. The term ‘third party’ is often misleading, as many parties run in America, most notably the Libertarian and Green parties. The Libertarian Party itself has seen rapid growth in the last decades, a 92% increase, while managing to elect a member to Congress, Justin Amash, in 2019. It is a strong alternative to the mainstream parties, promoting free-market capitalism, which has not existed in America for well over a century and a half, social liberalism, and actual limited government.
But the most probable third party candidates are not parties that exist. Rather, they are movements, the continuation of left and right-wing populism. The Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) is a rapidly growing movement to challenge the Democratic Party from the left and establish a social-democratic, progressive party that they believe will champion the rights of workers. Already, it has garnered over 100,000 supporters, with major backers such as former senator Mike Gravel. The MPP would certainly prove a more genuine alternative to the Democratic Party, and with our current economic crisis only continuing, mass support for a labor party could certainly be on the horizon. On the right is the potentiality of a Patriot Party, or a ‘Trumpist’ party. A Trump party would more than likely be a powerful force, as millions of Republicans and Independents throw their support behind Trump’s political movement, and would be the first true third party since Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. Such a party, however, would cripple the GOP and all but ensure Democratic victories all across the country. “I believe that a Trumpist party would keep Trumpists interested in politics instead of checking out now that Trump is gone, and potentially really damage the Republican Party through attrition,” said Pakman.
With all this being said, the future of politics in America, like always, is uncertain. Where we go from here will depend on how we continue to engage with each other, and how polarization will change. I believe we must move beyond collective identity, and view each other as individuals, and be able to engage with differing political opinions without outrage or intolerance. It will be up to individuals to determine the right course for America. As Professor Noam Chomsky, one of the most prominent political figures today and often dubbed “The Father of Modern Linguistics,” said, “We can only speculate; a lot depends on will and choice.”
“We can only speculate; a lot depends on will and choice,” said Professor Noam Chomsky.