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The New Nationalism Won’t Save the Right

Most Americans don't care about a border wall and politics lurches ever leftward.
Donald Trump

The appearance of such splenetic politicians on the national scene as Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from Southwest Detroit and her equally radical counterpart Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Bronx is no coincidence.

The House of Representatives is now full of ranting Trump haters, like Maxine Waters, Hank Johnson, and others who engage in hysterical hyperbole like comparing the president to Hitler. As a result, the party regulars will have to work hard to keep these noisemakers in line. Columnist Michael Goodwin gives sound advice when he tells Democratic congressional leaders: “Caving into the demands of the fanatical resistance movement, Schumer and Pelosi painted their party—and the nation—into a corner. Unless they inject sanity into the chaos, the shutdown will be a mere taste of the trouble ahead.”

Of course, it’s not as if the regulars like Congressmen Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff of California and Jerrold Nadler of the Big Apple are really moderate. They too are eager to impeach Trump on whatever grounds they can find or invent, and are itching to investigate GOP-appointed judges and cabinet officials. These “moderates” just want to inject a bit of order into their inquisition rather than letting an impetuous freshman like Rashida hurl obscenities while calling for Trump to be brought down.

Then too there’s the nagging problem that Rashida, Alexandria, and the Black Caucus are pro-Palestinian and outspokenly and sometimes incoherently critical of Israel. This no doubt causes heartburn for politicians like Schumer and Feinstein, who have both championed pro-Israel legislation, including anti-BDS measures. Some of the more bizarre ideas coming from these young representatives are also likely to displease the Democrats’ corporate donors, such as heavily taxing corporations to pay for expensive programs intended to fight climate change.      

All of this leads me to a prediction: in the next few years, a working alliance will develop between regular Democrats—particularly New Democrats from red states—and the milquetoast Republican establishment. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, the New Democrats have produced a slightly higher percentage of freshmen congressmen than have the progressives (29.8 percent to 27.1 percent).

Such an alliance would reflect electoral reality, as the Right seems to be growing weaker, not stronger, since the election of Trump two years ago. The ever ambitious Mitt Romney fired on his party’s leader prematurely, but his political instincts may be right after all. The GOP is likely to move leftward because that’s where a majority of the voters are, and if this happens to Trump’s detriment, Romney will hope to pick up the pieces. Neoconservatives and much of the authorized conservative movement would no doubt welcome the Utah senator or someone like him as the kind of “conservative” they could work with were he to run for the presidency.

With due respect to TAC editor Jim Antle, with whom I’ve often agreed in the past, I just don’t see how Trump and his electoral base can stay in power by appealing to a “new nationalism.” Most Americans polled are far less concerned with putting up a border wall and expressing national identity than they are with other issues, like having the government pay for their medical care. And though 65 percent of Americans now rate immigration as one of their “five major concerns,” only 44 percent support the president’s proposal for a border wall. Some 56 percent of respondents, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, believe that he should withdraw his demand for funding this project.

Finally, it seems unlikely that black voters and college-educated women will move from left to right, no matter how much Trump has done to improve their financial prospects. If the elections since 2018 have shown anything, it’s this: blue electoral areas have remained quite solid, while traditionally red ones, even in the Deep South, are up for grabs. That’s because the party perceived as being further to the left has benefited from its growing coalition. If there’s another explanation, I can’t seem to find it.

It would not be unusual to have two national parties that are recognizably on the left contending for power. The parties now running the major Western European countries are all to the left of our present GOP. And the present Republican Party is well to the left of where it was 20 years ago on such issues as gay rights and feminism.

A Pew Research Center study published in 2017 shows that since 1994, both national parties have moved decisively to the left on social questions. Although the Democrats have done so more dramatically, the shift has affected Republicans too. For example, the Pew survey asked whether homosexuality should be discouraged by social pressures. In 1994, 58 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats said it should be. By 2017, the shares of both Republicans and Democrats had dropped some 21 points.

In a possible alliance, the GOP, as the ideologically and electorally weaker side, will readily cooperate with establishment Democrats. They will undoubtedly find such shared concerns as confronting Putin “the thug” and supporting the Likud Party in Israel. They should have no trouble reaching an agreement on giving amnesty to all non-criminal illegal immigrants once Trump is no longer on the scene.

There is no reason to think that this political shift won’t continue. We are looking at a process that’s been brought about by college educators, the culture industry, the mass media, and mass immigration, and the momentum may be extremely hard to reverse or even to stop. America’s future won’t necessarily be British Columbia’s, whose provincial legislature features only parties of the left and which hasn’t elected a conservative to a provincial office since the early 1990s. What I am suggesting is that I’m seeing less and less political support on the right.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.



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