- - Monday, April 25, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Republican Party is in trouble, or so goes the conventional wisdom. Certainly, the party is passing through a painful and difficult transition. But in the broad context of history, it’s a necessary transition — from the politics of old reflecting a world that no longer exists to a new brand of politics reflecting the world as it is. One reason this election season is so raucous and unpredictable is that the voters know this transition is necessary but can’t seem to get the attention of the political elites.

But in the broad context of history, the Democratic Party is in far worse shape than the Republicans. Declining even to try addressing the politics of today, it’s stuck in yesterday, where no political party can survive.

The biggest difference between the two parties is Donald Trump. Conventional wisdom proclaims this difference disastrous for the Republican Party, but in the long term it will disadvantage the Democrats far more. Consider the big national and global developments of our time.

One is the disintegration of “globalization” — the idea that the free exchange of money, goods, ideas and peoples across national borders would produce a grand, new era of prosperity and harmony. Tom Friedman’s Lexus wins, and we all win. The olive tree dies, and who cares? We’ll be too rich and contented to notice.

Turns out the globalist era devastated the U.S. economy — and other economies around the world. Industrial America was hollowed out, jobs lost without full replacement in the post-industrial economy, either in numbers or quality. Meager economic growth over years left the middle class struggling, frustrated and angry.

Globalization is dying, as far as the political base of America is concerned. The only politician in 2016 who crafted a message based on that profound truth was Donald Trump, and he forced the Republicans to confront it. How they ultimately will respond to it remains an open question, and plenty of political warfare will ensue before we know the answer. But the Republicans now are grappling with it in multiple realms — immigration, trade, taxation, nationalism, NATO.

Not the Democrats. Their answer, compliments of Bernie Sanders, is to inject into America European-style democratic socialism — confiscatory taxes on societal enemies (producers), redistributionist initiatives, more power to the influence class. And with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, don’t kid yourselves — New York’s financial elites will make out just fine, as they have over the past eight years.

None of this addresses the fundamental reality that globalization has proved a disaster.

Now consider immigration. Until recently, both political parties generally favored a “comprehensive solution,” which meant essentially amnesty for the 11 million or so illegals currently in the country. Ultimately, some compromise on this will be necessary. But in truth, neither party was really serious about solving the broader influx problem. Mass immigration, legal and illegal, would help solve the looming Social Security disaster, for one thing; and Democrats viewed mass immigration as an avenue toward party dominance since the newcomers were likely to vote Democratic. The conventional wisdom was that the Republicans could address this inevitability only by embracing the Democratic approach, which meant stop being Republicans.

But with globalization dying, nationalism came to the fore, and nationalism abhors mass immigration because a nation without borders isn’t really a nation. Mr. Trump now has forced this new consciousness into Republican discourse. Again, we don’t know the eventual outcome, but Republicans at least will be dealing with it openly.

Most Democrats aren’t nationalists. They haven’t been since the party was forged anew in the hot flames of Vietnam. But clinging to globalist immigration policies when globalization is dying isn’t likely to be a powerful political approach.

Or consider America’s post-Cold War foreign policy. A disaster, as the country knows. But again, before Mr. Trump, neither party could bring itself to confront this obvious truth. Democrats such as Hillary Clinton refused to relinquish their Wilsonian, feel-good impulse to use American force to salve the wounds and hurts of humanity in distant precincts of the globe (globalization again). And Republicans were captive to the neoconservative notion that America could stand tall upon the globe by flexing its muscles everywhere (with a little Wilsonian, do-good nation-building along the way).

Neither party could bring itself to accept the reality that the Cold War was over, and the post-Cold War effort to run the world as in the Cold War days has failed. But the voters knew it. Then along came Donald Trump, and now everybody knows that the country is facing a reckoning on this. Again, we don’t know the outcome of the reckoning, but we know it will happen. Consider also NATO’s role and function in the post-Cold War world.

These are all realities the nation must confront, and they are being confronted now only in the Republican Party. True, many Republican top dogs have been struggling against the leash of these fundamental realities, but the leash is pulling them along. Most Democrats continue to ignore these realities, stuck as they are in the dying era of globalization. Nobody represents this more starkly than Hillary Clinton. Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner recently wrote that she was “one of those college students in the Sixties who threw herself into the passionate causes of those times, and she continues to do so today.” Only problem is, the Sixties are long gone.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author of books on American history and foreign policy.

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