Probably the only thing that everyone in modern America can agree upon is that we now live in a hyper-partisan age. The modifier is needed, as we used to lived in a mildly partisan age. Before that, American politics was about coalitions. The parties represented factions willing to compromise to some degree. Either this hyper-partisanship is a natural end point of liberal democracy, perhaps a prelude to civil war, or something happened in the last quarter century to get us here.
The first place to start is with Lenin, as he is the man credited with introducing both the term and concept into the West. The term was coined to counter objectivity in political economic analysis. Lenin rejected the idea that there is some objective good for all of society, because true objectivity is impossible when the interests of one class of society conflict with the interests of other classes. Therefore, the only rational politics is one in which you expressly advocate for the interests of your side.
In America, where the Marxist sense of class identity has never taken hold, party affiliation was the closest we had to partisanship through the Cold War. One would support a party out of family tradition or maybe regional affiliation, even when the platform of the party did not directly appeal to your interests. Loyal Democrats, for example, would argue that the party was best for the country as a whole. It was the blend of tradition, objectivity and republican virtue.
This is no longer the case in America, Partisanship is now much closer to the concept Lenin had in mind. The anti-Trump people, for example, hate Trump for entirely partisan reasons. Not only is republican virtue no longer a consideration, but policy itself is no longer a factor. Under Obama, for example, his partisans championed public works projects. They now reject those same projects, the very notion of them, because Trump now supports them. All politics is person and partisan.
Oddly, in a country that is decidedly middle-class, bourgeois objectivity with regards to public policy is now alien. A candidate talking about the general welfare would sound strange and unnatural. Similarly, the party factionalism has faded away. What are the interests of the Democrats and Republicans? The only thing that is true is global enterprise underwrites both parties. Otherwise their squabbling represents no practical interests of any definable interest group.
Has there been a Lenin in the American story who can be blamed or credited with introducing hyper-partisanship to our politics? The place to start, of course, is the founding. That is, the second founding. Was Lincoln a partisan and did he make explicitly partisan appeals? There’s no evidence for it. Lincoln’s public utterances were appeals to republican virtue and objectivity. The sadism of the abolitionists could be interpreted as partisanship, but they were just fanatics.
Even if Lincoln could be called the first partisan, it did not stick. The erecting of confederate statues, the ones now being demolished, was an effort to end the animosity between the two sides. Partisans have no sympathy for their enemies, even when they are thoroughly defeated. FDR is another good option, but again, he saturated his rhetoric in bourgeois objectivity. In fact, FDR and the ruling elite were quite fearful of the sort of partisanship introduced by the Marxists.
If we are to find an American Lenin, it is much closer to our time. The best candidate would have to be Bill Clinton. It was in his administration that objectivity was dispatched from public discourse. He and his people shamelessly lied, and their media partners greedily repeated the lies. A man willing to debate the definition of the word “is” in a deposition is not a man who accepts the concept of truth. The only thing that mattered to the Clintons was what was good for them.
That is an important fact about American partisanship. The Clinton machine was not representing a class or even a coalition. The only thing that mattered to the Clinton machine was what was good for the Clinton machine. They were willing to say and do anything that furthered their interests. The interests of others, even the interests of the country, were not a consideration. In fact, harming others was also their fallback position, if they could not gain a direct benefit.
This hyper-personal, hyper-partisanship was not a natural element in the Bush machine, but it was imposed on them. The whole Bush as Hitler thing was a direct effort by the Left to make their political differences with the Bush administration about the personality of Bush and his people. The Left still hates Dick Cheney, even though he has been out of politics for a dozen years. Of course, Obama is the David Koresh of the cult of anti-racism and anti-whiteness.
Now, the problem with the Lenin analogy, and any parallels drawn between this age and the Bolsheviks, is that this form of partisanship evolved within popular government, rather than in opposition to authoritarianism. An “us against them” mentality is a necessary component to revolution. American hyper-partisanship did not evolve to topple power or even to promote an alternative to power. It evolved among the power elite as a way to solidify their power.
Personal partisanship is the natural consequence of popular government. The Greeks did not have parties, they had personalities. Factions were labeled the “followers of” some notable politician. In the Roman Republic a similar system existed. Factions within the Senate were built around people. As America has slowly abandoned the republican political culture in favor of democratic culture, it is inevitable that factionalism would give way to personal partisanship.
On the other hand, this is akin to saying that the Bolshevik Revolution would have happened if Lenin never existed. By putting all of the emphasis on historical process, the people making events become spectators. History is the blend of people, events and ideas. In this case, the long Cold War and the natural evolution of liberal democracy was the perfect ground for a megalomaniac like Bill Clinton to introduce hyper-partisanship into American politics.
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