After the American Civil War, the big issues, with regards to politics in the country, were decided. The vanquished portions of the nation would have a say in the running of the country, but only within the constraints of the settled upon political system. America would be a country with a strong central government that would dominate the federal system conceived by the Founders. The debate would be about how much it controls and how quickly.
The idea, for example, that the restraints on the national government listed in the Bill of Rights should now apply to state and local government would have seemed odd to the Founders. States, for example, had official religions. As late as the 1830s Massachusetts provided tax money to local Congregational churches. The 14th Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to states, thus altering the fundamental relationship between the states and the Federal government.
From the Civil War forward, politics in America was largely a domestic dispute between the factions within the victorious coalition. You see this in the choice of presidents. The First “southerner” to win on his own after the Civil War was Wilson in 1912 and he remains the greatest of outliers in American politics. Both Johnsons and Truman got there by virtue of death. The next true southerner to win was Carter and again we see very strange conditions.
You can probably argue that the post-Civil War arrangements would have collapsed in the 20th century except for the great wars of Europe and then the Cold War. The crisis in global capitalism leading up to The Great War and then the war itself, placed enormous power in the hands of the federal government. The rise of America as global hegemon after the Second War made Washington DC the capital of the world throughout the Cold War.
Then something happened, something no one seems to discuss much these days. That is, the collapse of the Soviet Union and along with it the end of ideological socialism. Up until the 1990, the world was defined as capitalism on one side and Marxism on the other. Suddenly, one end of the scale collapsed, at least in terms of economics and morality. In the blink of an eye, being a Marxist went from avant-garde to ridiculous.
The 1992 election was cast at the time as the point where the Baby Boomers took over and that was true to a point. It was also the point where the Democrats threw in the towel on socialism. They embraced global capitalism with the enthusiasm of a convert. It’s not an accident that the great banking “reforms” happened in the Clinton years, embraced by both parties.
The trouble for both parties is they lost their reason to exist when ideological Marxism collapsed. It is always argued that this has been worse for the GOP than for the Democrats, but the opposite is true. In the Clinton years the Democrats went from being the majority party to the minority party. From 1994 onward, the party was in a steady retreat politically and ideologically.
The 2000 presidential election felt like a pivotal one because you had a vestigial Southern Democrat versus a Yankee heretic. The main source of hatred toward Bush from the Cult was his apparent rejection of the culture of Yankeedom for the culture of Hooterville. The venomous hatred of Bush was what you see from the betrayed. The Left was the shrewish ex-wife and Bush was the philandering husband.
That anger was put to good use. By 2006 the New Left had a sales pitch, even if they had nothing to pitch. Voters will pick energy over lethargy and the Democrats in the mid-2000’s had plenty of energy. Then they found Black Jesus and could run as moral crusaders, even though they could not articulate the point of the crusade. They had to search around the fringes for victims to champion and wrongs to be righted.
Homosexual marriage, tranny rights, ghetto rage, micro-aggressions and faux rape culture are all the result of grasping around at the edges of life looking for something, anything, which can be made into a banner. Each grasp deeper into the darkness returns something even more preposterous. Liberalism, and by extension the Democratic Party, has become a roadside freak of self-beclownment.
So-called serious progressivism today is mostly just nostalgia. Lefty plutocrats like Rahm Emmanuel, a man who made millions in a no-show job on Wall Street, vacations in Cuba while Chicago descends into a race war. George Soros, the great benefactor of modern progressivism, is a billionaire global capitalist.
The Left and by extension the Democrats, now embrace the same economics as the so-called Right. Both sides lust after riches in the financial markets. Both sides embrace global corporatism. The Left champions the liquidation of labor rights through advocacy of open borders. Think about that. There’s a reason it is hard to see the difference between the parties. There isn’t one.
Much is made of the circus going on in the GOP primary but look at the Democratic side. The party that used to brag about its youth and creativity is offering a worn out old grifter and a ridiculous commie that looks like he strolled out of a 1940’s movie on communism. The two of them are out campaigning in mobility scooters. The one young guy in the race can’t draw flies.
The great reordering that is under way is due to the collapse of the raison d’être of the American ruling class. What animated politics in America for the last several generations has been the interplay between Progressives and the defenders of the status quo, played out in the shadow of the Cold War.
The Left collapsed as an intellectual movement when the Cold War ended, but the Right collapsed as a pragmatic alternative. You can’t have one without the other. In a single generation, the Left has adopted the economics of the Right and the Right has adopted the politics of the Left. Neither side has a reason to exist outside of naked greed.