“Once upon a time I was a liberal, ……..” That’s the opening line by Brandon Straka in his YouTube and FaceBook video of 2018, in which he explains why he walked away from the Democratic Party, alienated by much of what it had become despite all the years he considered himself a Liberal. That video went viral, getting 650,000 YouTube views, over a million on FaceBook, and spawned the “Walk Away” movement.
Then there’s the “Never Trump” movement of disaffected Republicans, alienated by his behavior and chaotic administration. While this is more a movement within the Republican Party than about one leaving it, it is also symptomatic of those troubled with their party’s direction and leadership, and has accounted for a decline in support.
According to the December 2019 Gallup Pool, 28% of voters identify themselves as Democratic and 28% as Republican, whereas 41% consider themselves independent. While that poll leaves 3% unaccounted for, it’s close enough. Of those independents, 43% “leaned” Democratic and 45% “leaned” Republican.
I’m not sure what “leaned” really means, but in a more general sense, even accounting for the variances with polls, it’s pretty much a dead heat. In a Pew Research Center study, the percentage of independents has about doubled since 1944. These polls are for 2019 and they and the studies about them are on a national level, with the percentages within prior time frames and in each state varying substantially, but clearly the largest growth politically has been with independents.
For the Democratic Party, which considers itself in general to be “liberal”, the polarization/fracturing within the party is most striking especially when viewing the primary debates and elections. The DNC has expressed understandable concerns about this, but there’s something that until recently was not so apparent, and that is this growing number of Democrats leaving the party. In 2018, as the midterms elections showed, those percentages for the two main parties were 32% Democratic and 23% Republican; two years later, we have a different situation.
Now there’s understandable concern in the RNC also with the “Never Trump” movement, but it does not seem to have as much of an impact as does the “Walk Away” movement for the DNC.
I do not subscribe to political labels per se, but there was a time when true liberal thought spawned the Age of Enlightenment, a movement that helped to create many of the world’s democracies, including our own. Measured against that standard, neither of our two major political parties is truly liberal at all as overtime they devolved into power brokers, grooming their candidates and spinning their platforms to attract a base sufficient to absorb or exclude other parties, until they were the only two left standing.
What is reported in the media as polarization is not entirely accurate or informative. It is more about tribalism versus individualism, it’s about selling guilt and blame, it’s about negativity versus productivity, it’s about class warfare, the warfare and welfare state, it’s about racism, homophobia, misogyny….it’s about all that but ultimately it’s about ignorance. It is not a coincidence that the hate factors rise as literacy in America declines.
What the two main political parties are not about is addressing that; what they are all about is power and what it takes to win it. At this point they are so fractured and polarized that regardless who wins you will have either a more authoritarian administration or something more like the myopic stagnation we currently have, or some dystopian combination of both.
Perhaps this is the end of the Democratic and Republican Parties, at least as we now know them, and the beginning of the rise of a multi-party political landscape where political power is decentralized, allowing other voices to be heard, diluting the ability of the super parties to dominate, forcing them to seek coalitions to win majorities.
Perhaps that can lead to a decentralized political system where the people at a more local level call the shots, and not some bloated Leviathan in DC. Let’s not forget that there used to be such an America, and maybe we need that back.