“America’s leading politicians continue to play to their populist minorities.” – The Lonely Realist
A recent NBC news poll found that 71% of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the highest sustained level of pessimism in 30 years. A similar majority of Americans are dismayed by the prospect of a 2024 repeat of the 2020 Trump-Biden Presidential race. Americans’ pessimism is fed not only by social media tribalization, but by Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s efforts to indulge, respectively, far right and far left populist minorities …, with the moderate majority being largely ignored.
The Democrats’ brand of populism was neatly summarized in President Biden’s State of the Union address in which he touted his Administration’s once-in-a-generation infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act (which promotes a subsidy for Made in America semiconductors), the Inflation Reduction Act ($400 billion in subsidies for green tech), steps to renew the Violence Against Women Act, his Administration’s proposal to overhaul election laws, enactment of the Respect for Marriage Act, and his Administration’s forgiveness of student loans. “And folks, we’re just getting started…. [America is] beginning to restore the dignity of work [because] too many people have been left behind” – making income inequality the central theme of the Biden Administration’s domestic agenda. He added calls for supporting Ukraine, capping the price of insulin, providing further government support for domestic manufacturing, and called for enactment of a minimum tax on billionaires and quadrupling the tax on stock buybacks. The President contrasted his policies with those of his Republican Party counterparts, saying that the goal of his Administration is “to rebuild the backbone of America, America’s middle class….”
That’s the same middle class that former President Trump professes to support, though with very different policy prescriptions. He, too, advocates an America First manufacturing/industrial policy. He, too, believes that government actions should drive social change. He, too, favors tariffs and subsidies. He, too, believes in using the tax code to reward his supporters. And he, too, like Presidents Obama and Biden, focuses on bringing change to America …, change that is very different from Democratic Party change.
Joe Biden ran for President in 2020 as a moderate, yet his Administration has largely governed from the left (with the notable exception of its foreign policy). The Biden Administration promotes labor over capital while former President Trump’s brand of populism prefers capitalists over laborers. The Democratic Party favors green energy over fossil fuels, pursues intrusive government regulation over day-to-day business decision-making and favors social welfare programs over the “invisible hand” of capitalism, mostly in contrast to Trump Administration policies. The Biden Administration’s centralized policy-making approach plays to left-of-center populism and not to the moderate majority of Americans …, just as the Trump Administration’s centralized policy-making played – and plays – to right-of-center populism and not to the majority of Americans.
The sad fact is that more intrusive government – Statism – has become a defining characteristic of both political parties. While Republicans historically favored smaller government in practice (rather than merely in words), Statism now is both parties’ practice. Republican Party Statism includes the unfettered exercise of executive power evidenced through the erosion of parent-teacher decision-making, government control over local school curricula, the banning of books, prescribing how companies serve their customers, hindering/preventing businesses from adopting “woke-ish” policies (not limited to ESG, masking, vaccination, and LGBTQ issues), eliminating abortion rights and criminalizing abortion aid, and punishing businesses that advocate non-right-wing views (e.g., Disney and Delta). The Trump Administration during its four years was not successful in achieving its expressed goals of shrinking government, revoking regulations and eliminating “villains of the deep state.” What distinguishes the two political parties today therefore is that each party uses executive and legislative power to express different brands of populism. Minority rights are subsumed by single-minded partisanship. Compromise has become a four-letter word. Heaven forbid if you’re a Republican conservative in New York City or a Democrat progressive in Florida. Acceptance of differing perspectives now is archaic. Each party avoids solutions that might address America’s pressing “third rail” problems for fear of alienating gerrymandered constituents – on issues ranging from deficits, budgets, Social Security, Medicare, tax collection, education reform, immigration reform, etc. Politicians spend far less time proposing and discussing solutions than blaming the other party for not solving them. They find it politically expedient to allow problems to persist so long as the other party can be blamed. After all, they stand a better chance of re-election by finger-pointing than by actually enacting laws. Their goal instead is to reward friends and punish enemies. Racism, antisemitism, replacementism, white nationalism, isolationism, wokism, socialism, de-fundism and every other -ism has become synonymous with either the Republican or Democratic Party and neither party has been able to work with the other to reach a middle ground, the defining achievement of successful democracy.
Could it be that the efforts of America’s enemies – the Axis of the Sanctioned – to sow discord have succeeded? It’s not hard to imagine how Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, Nicolas Maduro, Bashar al-Assad, Miguel Díaz-Canel and their friends are reacting to America’s divisions, to the polarization of America’s two political parties, and to escalating domestic lawlessness. Unfortunately, their satisfaction does not mean that they will relent in their efforts. They will continue to do whatever it takes to further American discord …, and they have every reason to be satisfied with their handiwork and to have confidence that their continuing efforts will bear fruit.
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Finally (from a good friend)