Opinion: The United States has only one party
Christopher Hitchens was right.
Well, perhaps to some, that first statement by itself is too provocative. Allow me to specify: Christopher Hitchens was right as it relates to third parties. Namely that third parties are, by definition, bound to fail, for America is still awaiting the creation of a second party.
Over the last 20 to 30 years, if one removed the dates from most bills passed in Congress, I believe one would be unable to tell exactly which president signed said bill into law. The administrations were simply too similar.
Yet in the midst of a culture that privileges party politics and in a population that seems to be disagreeable, partisan, and divided, what exactly are we all against?
Our political situation reminds me of a conversation between the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, two individuals of opposite political persuasions but who were nonetheless good friends.
When asked about how the two justices keep their friendship despite their many disagreements, the two responded by saying that in actuality, they agree on most cases — from criminal law to tax law. It is only on issues prevalent in the press where they find disagreement.
Is it not true that this framework describes how political parties approached the last several elections. Campaigns were hyper-focused on the usually cultural issues that drive passions high such as abortion, social welfare, or gun rights. There are exceptions here, 2020, which focused on the coronavirus, and 2004 which focused on U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
But while we, the voters, focus on our feud on these issues, do we not recognize that the parties to which we are supposedly tribally loyal actually agree with each other, perhaps much more than we do.
Of course, these parties publicly do not agree on the hot-topic issues. But on other important issues such as the regulation of Wall Street, U.S. interference in foreign countries, or in-depth debates on economic theory, there is no Republican Party and Democratic Party; there is only one party.
Take, for example, foreign policy. One must ask if the policies of President Obama were any different from the policies of President George W. Bush. Rationally, the engagements in the Middle East under the Bush administration and the engagements led by President Obama in Syria and Libya were virtually indistinguishable. There is simply one-party rule.
Therefore, those who rise in opposition to this universal party seem to be systematically shut down and shut out. The most recent and apparent example of this has been the presidential candidacy of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Before this, the same internal friction was present in the candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, especially in 2016.
The nuance here arises in the case of President Donald Trump. He not only won the Republican nomination, to the chagrin of both conservatives and establishment Republicans, but also won the presidency itself in 2016.
So in the process of taming half of this duopoly, did Trump create another viable party option? No, of course not. Trump was indeed an outsider, but an outsider without a principled ideology — to loosely use the word. Trump did not create a genuine movement of conservatism or populism, but rather created a movement where his own election was the party’s sole ideology.
The consequence of this is that when Trump no longer held office, things returned to “normal.” This return to normalcy is a relief as it relates to the president’s tweeting and rhetoric, but at the same time, it was a reverberation back to the same old one-party rule.
The paradox is that even with a new administration, the aftertaste of a post-Trump presidency seems to still present in politics. Decisions by the federal government such as restricting media access to Border Patrol facilities or releasing statements directed to immigrants saying “Don’t leave your town, your city, your community” seem more Trumpian in nature, but indeed are the policies of President Biden.
Perhaps politics in the modern era is a bit like creating a snowball. The present-day policies are rolled around, consuming the procedure of the past and building and then rebuilding on the established and ever-increasing trends. The political snowball grows and grows into a monolith. But even a child knows that a snowman ought to be divided into separate parts.
Cover illustration courtesy of DonkeyHotey.