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US scenario: The centre-right is out for the kill

Published: September 07, 2017 18:05:34 | Updated: October 21, 2017 22:35:07


Supporters look on at a news conference led by Democratic senators and congressmen in support of a proposed constitutional amendment for campaign finance reform, on Capitol Hill in Washington September 08, 2014. —Reuters

How and why the US Democrat Party lost the June 20 congressional replacement election in Georgia ought to become a required Politics 101 reading for all electoral candidates anywhere: the US centre-right was reified unnaturally, empowering populists, particularly new Trump supporters. Whether pique, sticky-feet, neglected past trends and developments, or foolhardy future interpretations explains the centre-left collapse at this 21st Century juncture, the Democrat Party's tough choices carry long-term consequences, but  may take that long to learn.

 

 

Jon Ossoff, who many observers rightfully believed could salvage the Democrat Party from its 2016 presidential election collapse (inflicted particularly by southern voters),  even had the upper hand against the Republican Karen Handel. Yet, the election (a) continued the losing Democrat streak in 2017 congressional replacement elections after the Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina losses; (b) potentially reprieved the substance-shorn Republican Party's 2018 mid-term prospects; (c) exposed campaign finance as a centre-left liability after becoming the most expensive congressional election; and (d) resounded the death-knell louder for the Democrat Party than could Hillary Clinton's November 2016 loss. Yet the underlying message went far beyond: capitalising on all means, fair and foul, the centre-right is out for the kill.

 

 

The Democrat Party is its own worst enemy. Arrogance was everywhere during the failed 2016 Clinton presidential campaign. Victory was taken for granted without rhyme or reason (except that since the candidate was a woman, women voters would push her across the tape); and Trump's mistakes in Washington were so egregious, making a Democrat victory's biggest question became how big that victory margin.

 

 

Lessons continue to be ignored. Both the 2016 superiority complex and the 2017 inferiority complex fail to do what the public wants it to: mend and bend the party's broken or obsolete agenda to suit contemporary needs. By being the most inclusive US party, the Democrats may have lost the largest exclusive group: white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants (WASPs); and as a rainbow band, it may be splashing too many colours all too thinly to expect the kind of deep imprints necessary to match the enormously emotional and profound demands behind today's critical issues. These issues range from immigrant absorption to economic competitiveness and sustaining financially back-breaking entitlements. Much more of the Democrat ammunition is being shelled out in reaction rather than pro-action: vilifying the Republicans is a constant and increasingly repetitive and tasteless strategy, depicted by the likes of Occupy Democrats, Americans Against the Republicans, and other groups, as evident on Facebook. Turned-off independent voters are not turning on, their centre-right swing looking increasingly irreversible. Yet, reckless reactionary comments continue relentlessly.

 

As columnist Peter Beinart asserts, the centre-left "must convince more native-born white Americans that immigrants will not weaken the bonds of national identity." His proposal for greater 'assimilation' runs directly against the 'diversity' accent favoured by the Democrat Party (The Democrats' immigration mistake, The Atlantic, July-August, 2017, 64).

 

Winning both chambers seems unlikely for Democrats, even as the president makes himself a daily national joke. Two scenarios demand attention: Democrats winning the Senate in 2018, or taking another full-fledged drubbing. The former is likelier, given the narrower margin to cross and the broader electorate, producing a divided Congress. Since it can no longer get a firm grip on nationalism and patriotism as it could before (remember how it led the United States through two world wars), the Democrat nightmare is set to worsen. Its inclusive/rainbow genes may be partly to blame, but largely by literally letting nationalism and patriotism become Republican Party properties. Mixed with hope, the revelation of a scandal or two, and candidate blackmail of all sorts, the Republicans have utilised the length, breadth, and depth of the patriotism weapon to be able to alert us that anything goes in today's political climate: from fiction to fables, any rationale can be manufactured; and, for us, that they do it the best. Since the House does not look like it is ready to change leadership, regardless of presidential missteps, how this ripples from the United States across both oceans could generalise the US political malaise globally.

 

A third disturbing feature is the Republican stranglehold over campaign finances. Not only did the US$ 60 million spent on the Georgian June 2017 election double the previously most expensive congressional election (in Florida during 2012, when a Democrat, Patrick Murphy, defeated the Republican Allen West); but the financial springboard essentially converted a local Georgian political battle into a national financial spar. Both state and external money competed to influence the outcome, with the latter egregiously tipping the former: though the Democrat candidate raised a little under US$ 24 million from small Georgian donors against the Republican counterpart's under-US$ 5.0 million from an identical contributor profile, how Georgian preferences were 'trumped' by outside funding transformed a very tight contest into a comfortable victory (Handel's US$ 19 million from external sources, more than doubled Ossoff's US$ 8.0 million). Grassroots support for Ossoff in a traditionally core Republican constituency contrasted the Washington peak-groups (including powerful political action groups or PACs), to extricate Handel: after trailing Ossoff for much of the campaign, she notched 53 per cent of the votes. The die was cast for local elections to be nationally determined by owners of large pockets, something the inclusive, rainbow-hued Democrat Party cannot match now, even less in the future.

 

Holding a doomed set of cards, the Democrat Party also faces leadership attrition: veterans have become obsolete; powerful newcomers, like Ossoff, emerged, but burned out quickly; and voters have no other option but to resign to a truly embarrassing president, and a sloganeering, substance-bereft, and banally sickening Republican congress.

 

Hell will let loose for Democrats if feminists 'make common cause' with Trump and the Republicans. "The most overtly anti-feminist president," award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs recently noted about Woodrow Wilson's 1912 stance, "became the foremost proponent of universal suffrage" in 1918 (Winning women, Hoover Digest, Spring 2017). She argues Trump, who has called women reporters "pigs and dogs," could do the same by getting the 94-year-old Equal Rights Amendment ratified by the states (Congress approved it in 1972, where it has since languished).

 

The net effects of these dynamics would monetise US elections, and alienate the United States from the rest of the world where elections still largely revolve over issues, if regularly held in the first place. If monetising elections spreads to the rest of the world, not only centre-left positions, but also politics in general will have been completely transformed. As the next piece of the series shows, crumbling centre-left initiatives across the Atlantic suggests we may be headed that way.

 

 Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

 

imtiaz.hussain@iub.edu.bd

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