From Walter McDougall's "Throes of Democracy,"
Americans, Tocqueville remarked, are naturally suspicious of others’ success. To attribute their rise to superior virtue demeans the self. Hence those left behind in a freewheeling, free-market democracy tend to assume the rich and mighty became rich and mighty through subterfuge, corruption, or favoritism. And if this were so, then the fact that such men had the power to constrain liberty and limit opportunity for the common man was simply unbearable. The real or imagined contrast between the myth of equality and the very unequal outcome of free competition in an era of blistering change was a torment to many Americans.McDougal was writing about Jacksonian America but much of the issues faced almost 200 years ago are the same we argue about today.
By instinct or accident Jackson discovered the secret of American politics, which is to rally the largest possible number of voters to oppose the smallest and vaguest of enemies. Leaders of the Democratic party caught the drift and rode it for thirty years, using rhetoric that damned corruption, corrupt bargains, conspiracies, “monster” banks, “satanic” mills, monopolies, aristocrats, usurpers, speculators, stockjobbers, abolitionists, and meddling self-righteous reformers who meant to “enslave,” “shackle,” “enchain,” or “fetter” the naturally free and equal American workers and farmers.Can you hear Sanders and Trump in there? Sanders warns us of Citizen's United, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers and millionaires and billionaires. Trump sees Muslims, China, Japan, Mexico as threats. Both are deathly opposed to free trade. All of these are looking to enslave us.
Democrats invited any voter with a grievance to assume he had been cheated, thwarted, exploited by powerful men who rigged the game in their favor. They apotheosized all that was natural, simple, and intuitive, implying that complex institutions of all sorts were artificial, oppressive, and undemocratic. Jacksonians wanted to rise in the hectic, industrializing market economy, yet at the same time flee from the impersonal human relationships it required. Their world was a volatile mix of aspiration and fear.The more things change.....State's rights, internal improvements (infrastructure), federal power, racism, immigration, monetary policy, free trade, tariffs, isolationism, imperialism are just as relevant today as they were in FDR's, Wilson's, Lincoln's, Jackson's and Washington's times.
I liked Lindsey Graham much better after listening to his interview on David Axelrod's podcast, The Axe Files. But at the end he and Axelrod lamented the changes in the Republican Party. The typical stuff: Reagan couldn't get nominated today. Not your father's Republican Party. The normal blather.
What they are missing, I think, is parties have always changed, and should change. Do we really want a party to not respond to changing times and preferences? When I hear the Republican and Democratic parties have changed, I think to myself, "I sure hope so."
I think of the parties testing, then embracing which side of state's rights, internal improvements (infrastructure), federal power, racism, immigration, monetary policy, free trade, tariffs, isolationism, imperialism they will be on so we have Democrats and Republicans on both sides of these issues over the course of history. It's not your father's Republican/Democratic party.
25 years ago the Democrats didn't just embrace NAFTA, they fought for it. They fought for deregulation and welfare reform and declared the era of big government is over. I doubt Bill Clinton could be nominated in today's Democratic party.
When the Republicans were mostly free trade I was mostly Republican. At some point, and I don't exactly know when, immigration became the hill the Republicans decided to die on. And now it seems the Know Nothing wing of the Republican party has become ascendant with Trump, overwhelming the free-traders, evangelicals, limited government, interventionist wings.
Like I said, parties change, and they should. But that doesn't mean I personally have to like the changes, or accept them. Both parties seem to be rushing to embrace the worst policies they can as long as they rally the largest possible number of voters to oppose the smallest and vaguest of enemies. And I'm not going to support a party that wants to embrace an anti-immigrant, nationalist, protectionist, thinly-veiled racist platform.