It’s becoming increasingly and understandably popular to predict that 2016’s rock-em-sock-em presidential election could spark a major realignment in American politics. In particular, it’s nearly impossible to see how the current Republican Party survives the insurrection led by its presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Less apparent but no less important are the big shifts that are already taking place, as a new New York Times article unmistakably demonstrates. The piece, by Thomas Edsall, also shows that both major parties show signs of historic change, and unwittingly reveals that Democrats in particular are increasingly backing a model for the economy that has already failed catastrophically.
Edsall’s analysis relies on several recent polls and additional academic research, and although I have no illusions about the reliability of such surveys, especially when they’re looking at broad trends as opposed to political races, they’re difficult to dismiss. When they generally track one another, their credibility seems particularly high.
These studies and findings come from the Pew Foundation, the Brookings Institution, The Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, and the Public Religion Research Institute – an impressive range of sources. The headline on Edsall’s story spotlights the trend he views as most important: American politics is experiencing a “great inversion” of the “New Deal order among white voters.” Specifically,
“From the 1930s into the 1980s and early 1990s, majorities of downscale whites voted Democratic and upscale whites voted Republican. Now, looking at combined male and female vote totals, the opposite is true.”
Couple this with the Democrats’ mounting support among minority Americans and immigrants and their offspring – who are acutely aware of the economic and social progress made since their parents’ days, or who compare life in the United States versus the circumstances in their home countries – and the party’s political prospects definitely seem on the upswing.
Whether a new age of such Democrats’ dominance will be good for the country is a separate issue, and here the developments described by Edsall are positively depressing. The main reason: The Democrats’ mounting belief in addressing some of the economy’s prime failings with bigger government handouts rather than with needed improvement in the structure and workings of the private sector.
For example, according to the University of Virginia report, even the white “social elites” who are trending Democratic strongly believe that “the system is rigged in favor” of the wealthy (by a 3 to 1 margin) and that Wall Street and big business “profit at the expense of ordinary Americans….” (by a 6 to 1 margin). Nothing of course intrinsically wrong with that.
But here’s their solution: “[B]y better than 2 to 1…the government ‘should do more to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.’” Further, there’s compelling – though not conclusive – evidence that support for more government activism extends only to more generous import supports and actual subsidies, rather than reforms that could actually improve job availability and pay in the private sector.
Principally, the Virginia data show very strong support for more lenient immigration policies among the elites. And although this study contains no data on trade policy, the Public Religion Research Institute has just confirmed what numerous other polling groups have found: Many more rank-and-file Republicans have become more skeptical about the U.S. approach to globalization than Democrats. So although in recent decades, Democratic members of Congress (as opposed to Democratic presidents) have led the opposition to new trade agreements and similar policy decisions, they’re looking increasingly out of step with their constituents.
There’s no question that continually rising floods of imports and immigrants would serve the short-term interests of the elites who keep flocking to Democratic ranks. What’s not to like about cheaper and cheaper consumer goods, not to mention nannies and janitors and gardeners? So much the better if millennials – who for the most part lack any experience with or memory of the industrial economy and its blessings for working people – can be seduced by the false promises of prospering through waiting tables, developing killer apps, or taking on ever more gig work. And if low-income working class minorities believe that government largesse will adequately substitute for the destruction of factory jobs and the all the gainful employment they create outside industry – well, jackpot!
The problem, of course, is that the United States tried this formula for economic health during the 2000s. And it’s still living with the destruction wreaked by the financial crisis and Great Recession that inevitably resulted from neglecting two vital and connected needs: producing everyday goods and services at home, and generating adequate wage and salary income. Instead, the nation drank the kool-aid that it could borrow and spend its way to durable prosperity.
It’s been bad enough, in other words, that America’s political, economic and business establishments haven’t learned the lessons of the previous decades. Now it looks like their cluelessness will be reinforced by those groups on the rise in the U.S. electorate.