As a child growing up in the sixties and early seventies, the political affiliation of a voter had great significance. If someone said they were a Democrat or a Republican an observer would have certain presumptions about where their loyalties and attitudes might lie.
My Irish Unionist Father was a staunch Democratic voter. He would say, “Remember Christopher, the Democrats are for the workingman.” Even as a kid, I questioned in my mind whether that perception was overly simplistic.
Yet my father believed that justice for the lunch pail crowd could only be found in Democratic leadership.
On the contrary, the members of my family from my father’s generation who made their money in the furniture business were staunch Republicans. While working for them in my youth I would hear “If the Democrats get their wish we will be taxed to death to pay for the freeloaders.”
Neither viewpoint was totally right or totally wrong. However, these were universally accepted perceptions. Today both national major political parties are searching for their faded identities. In the Trump era, Republicans have traded true conservatism for radical nationalism and populism. While the Democrats have replaced shielding the interests of the workingman with far left social issues.
In embracing these transitions, both parties have devolved into ineffective organizations of malignant stagnancy. As a result, the country has suffered from the Washington Beltways’ inability to accomplish anything.
In a flaccid attempt at reestablishing an identity, the Democrats have introduced a new campaign named “A Better Deal.” The proposal is simply a rehash of old tired notions that lack imagination. Equally confounding, the Republicans are identifying themselves with the mercurial and intemperate GOP president who changes strategies and policies from tweet to tweet and sentence to sentence.
Long malingering issues have festered for decades relatively unaddressed. The exponential growth of our national debt is a dark legacy that could bring the nation to ruin eventually. Also, the expatriation of our manufacturing sector has been bellowed about in both Democratic and Republican administrations with no concrete strategies implemented to countermand the trend. Additionally, discretionary spending is still the bloated porcine sty it has always been causing increases in the debt ceiling with no practice of budgetary discipline. And those are just some of the crucial issues left unresolved in this vacuum of current unidentifiable political principle.
Locally, in the State of Rhode Island, to be a registered Republican is to be a pipe dreamer. With virtually no power and a minuscule presence in the General Assembly, even if a Republican official sought to positively affect government with conservative intent, he or she is impotent to succeed.
As a Rhode Island Democrat, doors are opened, profitable connections are made, and one can aspire to become part of the eight or ten members of the assembly hierarchy that truly run the state up on Smith Hill. This cabal constitutes the apex of the “strange aristocracy’ that holds actual power in our state.
To exercise some relevance in the Ocean State, there are some clandestine Republicans that officially wear the Democrat cloak. These closeted Republicans accept the obvious reality that an overt Republican identity is a scarlet letter of innocuousness on their heads. Nevertheless, the vortex of Democrat liberal union-friendly inertia draws these ulterior conservatives closer toward a more moderate political standpoint.
Nationwide, one could argue that what made the Democrat party so successful for decades were its politicized conspicuous fights for the well-being of the common man. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created an alphabet soup of government programs intent on reinvigorating the morale of the depression stricken worker. With 25% unemployment and one third of the nation’s properties being foreclosed on, FDR’s attempt at restoring faith in the country established a durable Democratic identity. Considering FDR’s Republican predecessor Herbert Hoover was painted as being indifferent and big business oriented while starving Americans were housing themselves in make-shift shacks during the onslaught of the depression. The Democratic political party was seen as a refuge for just treatment and renewal for the just plain folks. That sentiment was further secured 30 years later during the tenure of our 36th President Lyndon Johnson.
LBJ’s Great Society Programs further established the Democratic identity as the party assuring equal opportunity. One of the Great Society’s programs passed into law in the mid-sixties was “Affirmative Action.” This government-insured preferential treatment regulation, gave priority to minority job applicants along with the “Job Corps” which offered free skills training for the disadvantaged. These breakthrough concepts secured the Democrat political identity as champions of the struggling in our nation.
Conversely, the Democrats of today have no such recognizable identity. For they have spend recent election cycles worrying about which restroom a transgender person should go for relief, or how homeless beggars should have a right to privacy and free association despite the disruption of small business. Also, they have carried the gauntlet of sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants. And they have lamented whether the amount of Arctic ice that Polar Bears have to play on is seriously diminished. Thus, expressing a concern for global warming which is at best abstract to those striving to pay their monthly rent.
To change the Democrat identity from societal complainers back to guardians of workers, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has presented the National Democrat Plan called “A Better Deal.” Conspicuously picking a title that is similar to Democrat identifying plans of the past, A Better Deal is merely a compilation of tired Democrat ideas of the past. The three tenants of the proposal are increasing people’s pay through a raise in the minimum wage to 15.00 per hour nationally, lowering household budget costs by forcing employers to pay expanded family and sick leave pay, and by adding to the possibility of employers providing increased job training by offering them a tax break to do so. Never mind the detrimental effect these proposals would have on individual businesses if passed into law, these ideas are hardly revelatory and will not restore the old Democrat identity as the workingman’s advocate political party.
The modern Republicans are faring no better. Once known for the solid conservatism of Senator Barry Goldwater, to be a Republican currently is a confusing affiliation. The standard bearer for the GOP is naturally their party’s elected President Donald John Trump. Unfortunately, until recently Trump was a Democrat politically. He changed parties and later ran for president as a Republican after he embraced “Birtherism” (which was the movement that tried to prove President Obama was in reality Kenyan born). The Donald ran a riotous campaign of nationalistic notions of stringent societal controls. Building a southern border wall, severely restricting legal immigrants, catching and deporting illegal immigrants, withholding federal funds from sanctuary states or municipalities, and depicting anyone who is not native born as criminals, rallied a hard-core support of new Republican voters. Additionally, Trump claimed tariffs would be imposed, international trade deals abandoned, and most favored nation trading status revoked on nations that did not play ball with Trump, threatened our relationships with many countries.
The glaring problems with Trump’s rallying cries were none were in keeping with the traditional Republican identity. For decades, illegal immigrants have performed “stoop labor” in the agricultural sector and harvests that feed Americans can not come to market without them. The hospitality industry is so reliant upon illegal immigrants that industry experts claim one third of the hotels in the country would be without staff should they be sent home. American citizens simply will not fill those jobs for the low market wages paid. Furthermore, on a cultural basis Americans refuse to do the work. Traditionally, Republicans would not endanger those businesses by pressing the issue. Outlawing illegal immigrants for these purposes is self-defeating.
Next, Republicans have always been “Free Traders.” Free Trade benefits domestic consumer prices and countries that trade usually do go to war with each other. Republicans believe in market competition spurring overall growth. President Trump is counter to historically Republican values.
All in all, to identify oneself as a Republican or a Democrat was once an implied statement of values and principles. Now that same party affiliation can mean many things or nothing at all. If political parties are ever to move forward with a clear discernible message they need to regain their former standpoints of relevance. Then this befuddled mess of a political party identity crisis would end.