By Fairooz Adams
America is due for another political realignment and perhaps a return to a kind of politics where both major parties are not ideologically homogenous. For much of the nation’s history that was the norm in American politics; Mitt Romney’s father George W. Romney as well as Nelson Rockefeller were liberal Republicans while Robert Byrd and Albert Gore Sr. (father of Bill Clinton’s vice president) were conservative Democrats. The last major realignment occurred slowly throughout the twentieth century as “Eastern Establishment” Republicans were gradually pushed out of the GOP and became absorbed into the Democratic Party just as Nixon’s rightward shift on cultural issues led to the Republican Party making inroads into the solidly Democratic South.
In the present day, the seams along which another realignment would make the most sense are along the line between the technocrats and the populists. From the conservative end of the spectrum the alternative right is, in many ways, very distinct from traditional American conservatism just as the regressive leftists (derisively called social justice warriors) are distinct from the best traditions of American liberalism.
American conservatives believe that our nation is stronger when the United States is a leader in global affairs and is able to ensure peace by projecting strength and supporting democratic allies like Israel. American conservatives also believe that real capitalism where competition is unleashed is the pathway to freeing hardworking people to achieve the prosperity they deserve and believe Americans ought to dismiss identity politics in favor of our shared bonds as a nation.
The alt-right is radically different. This neo-fascist strain of thought wishes to see the United States, a nation whose economic activity comprises over one-fifth of the world’s total, extricate itself from its global obligations and turn inward. This movement is anti-Semitic, rails against “neoliberal” and “globalist” free markets while also fully embracing ethnonationalism: a corrosive brand of identity politics that advocates for nationalism based on race.
Regressive leftists are just as tribal and hardly better than the alt-right. Technocracy has dominated in the Democratic Party since the conclusion of the Cold War. This has meant a support for trade liberalization, welfare reform and a whole host of other policies in order to use the instruments of government to alleviate public policy problems. What characterizes the regressive left on the other hand is their worship of the victim, whoever that may be.
According to the regressive leftists mindset, while globalization may be good overall, the mere fact that some uncompetitive businesses in a marketplace will be displaced means globalization is bad. Historical grievances must be litigated today by blaming descendants for the actions of their ancestors instead of focusing on moving forward. Whereas real liberalism promotes universal rights and freedoms, in the world of the regressive leftists, many of the ideas of certain people who are deemed to be from a privileged class are to be summarily rejected.
Both the alt-right and the regressive left have an obsession with maintaining the cultural purity of racial groups by vehemently opposing “cultural appropriation.” Failure to meet ethnic obligations to the regressive left earns the designation that a person is “self-hating” while the alt-right uses the term “cuck.” Both favor segregation, coming in the form of safe spaces for the regressive left and ethnonationalism for the alt-right. They are in many cases anti-Semitic: manifesting as overt racism in the alt-right while groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, a regressive leftist organization, considers the State of Israel to be illegitimate. Unsurprisingly, regressive leftists and the alt-right believe American leadership abroad is a mistake. Given the fact that both of these movements are young, it is conceivable that they will become powerful forces in the political arena in the coming decades.
This leaves the technocratic and internationalist traditions in both parties in an uncomfortable position. Already Donald Trump’s candidacy has encouraged many from the neoconservative foreign policy class of President George W. Bush’s administration to openly support Secretary Clinton this election cycle. Many elected officials in the Republican Party have refused to support the populist alt-right backed Trump whose ideas carry only a passing resemblance with American conservatism.
Perhaps then the most reasonable course of action for both groups will be to cobble together a coalition comprised of technocrats to create a federation of Democratic and Republican groups and let the populists of both ends of the political spectrum form a new banner for themselves. The latter will most certainly have to be a marriage of convenience in which the alt-right leads the populist politics today, as they’ve hijacked significant portions of a major party, but in the future should regressive leftists become a mainstream political force the alt-right would have to be a junior partner in the coalition.
The technocratic coalition in such a future would continue to support globalization, the business community, and making investments in the economy to spur growth while at once adopting moderate to liberal social attitudes. This would be, in a sense, a reincarnation of the Rockefeller Republicans of the 20th century. In the present day, had such a coalition existed it would likely have included Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, New England Republicans such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and possibly President Obama. Meanwhile a populist coalition could work together as an isolationist force in our politics that advocates for curbing market freedoms. Such an alliance would not need for the two factions to share an affinity with one another, just actionable common political objectives and a rejection of technocratic politics.
Certainly this is merely speculation and I possess no crystal ball that makes me privy to the future. It is perfectly possible that one party, both, or even neither will be taken over by the populists. American politics may morph in ways that no can conceive of today. Whichever the case, it will be the most rational for the alt-right and the regressive left to come together in an unholy alliance of illiberalism and tribalism. Should that become the case, it will be an imperative for those of us that embrace the technocratic tradition within the major parties to come together and continue to chart a course forward that does not descend to the low Old World tribalism emanating from both ends of the political spectrum.