- - Wednesday, October 19, 2016


The enduring American political parties have always been coalitions. The country is too big and populous, with too many strong regional and other economic demands to meet the models of European-style ideological political configurations. The coalitions have often included contradictory forces making the struggle for leadership in party conventions and primaries more issue-oriented than the election.

We have seen that this year when the Republican primary candidates discussed every issue on the battlefield, but the general election is a contest of personalities, the cold, professional Hillary Clinton against the showman Donald Trump.

The parties have written myths about themselves. The Democrats, in their telling, are the party of “the people,” made up of big-city machines and strong personalities with highly personal followings, not least Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Southern bosses with their solid segregationist followings; trade unions and demagogues demanding government legislation. The Republicans, on the other hand, were characterized as aristocratic with their “permanent” New England constituency, their strong ties to Wall Street and the farmers in the Midwest hinterland.

We may well be at a time when the myths are being rewritten. Donald Trump, assuming he runs strongly in November, is rewriting these myths, and indeed he appears to be swapping them, one for the other, almost intact.

His hard core is made up of the “little people” who have lost their jobs to technology or to foreigners working for pittances, and they think they’re not getting a fair shake. Hillary Clinton’s Democrats have the ties now to Wall Street of the MBAs and expanding international markets. The South is as solid as ever, but now it’s a Solid Republican South, which began with Richard Nixon. The trade unions, but for the traditionally conservative Teamsters, are still Democratic but their numbers have melted, now largely made up of government workers.

The Donald’s stream-of-consciousness oratory often sounds a lot like the oratory of the old Democrats. Hillary’s ties to the corporate world, particularly to Wall Street, are demonstrated by the tens of millions of dollars paid for her boilerplate speeches to the street’s fat cats. The myths will survive for a while, but what Donald Trump is doing is writing new myths about the two great political coalitions, indeed even simply swapping them as the nation enters a new era.

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