Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Americans and Politics

From an interesting NY Times piece by Tom Edsall about what happens to the American political parties after the election, I extract this:

The one truism of public opinion is that it acts thermostatically. When the government becomes more left-wing, public opinion shifts to the right (and vice versa). This is true both in aggregate, and within parties as well.
Under Trump, the American public has become more liberal. Which is very interesting, especially when you consider all those narratives about "Presidential leadership" and what have you, and is one of the few good signs I have seen lately for our political future. 


David said...

Liberal-conservative polling questions are only one way of looking at the public. Presidential leadership can also build enduring alliances, which are a securer base of power. FDR built such an alliance, which lasted until LBJ discovered it was Democratic but not necessarily that liberal. LBJ's civil rights actions, meanwhile, built a strong alliance between Black Americans and the Democrats, which endures even though many Blacks are more conservative on religious and family issues. In reaction, the Republicans have built a firm alliance with White southerners and the White working class generally, even though many of the latter are against things like privatizing Social Security.

Anyway, if Biden wins, why is the prediction that the public will become more conservative in reaction a good sign?

David said...


Having now read the article, I'm stunned that you could distill anything optimistic at all from its contents. Its essential conclusion is that, under most scenarios, the left and right extremes are going to continue to get stronger. On the right, Trumpism is here to stay. On the left, the Sanders-AOC wing of the Dems will get stronger unless the Dems win both the WH and the Senate and Biden surprises us all and governs as a dynamic leader rather than as the kind of "listless" Democrat the article spends a fair amount of time on.

Most striking and true-sounding to me was the diagnosis of the new Republican Party the Trump era has left us with. It is no longer a conservative party. It is now a party "for people who are 'tough, aggressive, willful. Those do not tend to be the characteristics of conservative thinking (nor of liberal thinking).'" Chillingly, we are told it is a party for people who "prefer children who are tough, aggressive, and forceful rather than kids who are kind and compromising and such." This rings true to me, and I think it's a very bad sign for our future.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

As non-american, I can only say : if that is true, what about the 'centre' ?
I know that 'liberals' are not exactly left, they are more like centre-left, as most republicans have been centre-right. But if things are getting a bit radical, where, how many, are the moderate voters that hesitate between sides? Or is abstention going to have record high numbers?

G. Verloren said...


The thing is, political parties never last forever. We've seen many major shifts, splits, and even replacements of parties in our own American history.

We've had parties switch from one side of the political spectrum entirely to the other over time. We had a political party that was so dominated by opposition to a single rival politician that it was commonly called the Anti-Jackson Party. Our two current major parties both can trace all the way back to a single party that split in half.

American politics have two centuries of ugliness and factionalism and extreme partisanship behind them that we often tend to ignore as ever even having happened.

I believe we're seeing a potential fracture point for our modern parties, and while that's definitely not desirable in the short term from a stance of stability, I can only wonder if it might not be necessary in the long term.

I think a lot of Republicans are fed up with their party's goose-step march toward Fascism, and I think a fracturing of the party would have the effect of shifting the points of balance - the right most elements become one party that is likely to be smaller and relegated to the fringes, while the more center-right elements become a second party which is far more willing to work with people like the center-left, and far more influential in politics because they aren't so extreme.

And if this purported trend of the American public shifting conservative in response to a liberal win (and vice versa) holds true, it doesn't necessarily mean it holds true across the board, but merely in aggregate. It doesn't have to mean everyone across the spectruum slides one step closer to Fascism - it might merely mean that a lot of people in the center or the center-left take a step rightward, and end up center or center-right, which is... frankly not that big a deal.