The past year has brought about more changes than many of us could have ever dreamed. Yet, one of the most curious among them is the phenomenon which has seen many conservatives completely drop their principles of small government and financial prudence in the name of giving as much government aid as possible to citizens.
Reeling from economic hardship and incensed by the realization that those at the top have stopped caring about them, many Republicans seem to have found themselves in league with the most unlikely bedfellows, progressives. In what appears to be a clear-cut case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, politicians like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are finding themselves in agreement with Bernie Sanders and AOC on topics ranging from Wall Street regulation to stimulus checks.
It’s a stance that is almost unbelievable considering what Republicans use to be.
Historically, Republicans were people intensely dedicated to preserving the American political/economic system. They saw it as an engine of success which at least closely approximated their values. Moreover, for them it was a force that preserved democracy, personal, and economic liberty and was the single largest factor in the success of the country.
Traditional Republicans also believed that no matter how far the system got from its roots, it could and would be reformed. To them, every infringement on the Constitution and change to American society, every shift in the balance of power between the haves and the have nots, was something temporary that would eventually be reversed.
However, the traditional Republican is a dying breed. Decades of disappointment have made them nearly unrecognizable.
While the American system had been straying ever further from conservative ideals for all of the 20th century, there was still faith that it could be controlled or even reformed. However, the last two decades have completely destroyed that notion for almost everyone.
It started small enough, with 9/11. That attack was used to pass the Patriot Act, a bill 10 years in the making that significantly expanded the powers of the government while equally reducing those of her citizens. Despite how it looked though, many on the right were quick to write it off as necessary in order to fight terrorism.
Less than two years later the Bush administration, aided heavily by the media, lied the country into a war with Iraq that financially benefitted almost everyone in said administration while bringing no tangible benefit to the United States and ruining Iraq and the wider region in general. Yet still, most on the right excused it as just a few bad actors and a mistake by the media.
Yet, as the years went by, it became harder to give the benefit of the doubt. Especially after Obama was elected.
A combination of the internet laying many secrets bare and having the opposing party at the helm made it easier for Republicans to see the state of their country. Indeed, things like Citizens United, Edward Snowden, and the fiascos in Syria and Libya showed just how rotten the system had become. However, people still had faith that the everything could be reformed, until Trump came.
Elected on a platform specifically aimed at dealing with corruption, government spying, and crippling debt, Trump did just the opposite. He added more debt in four years than Obama managed in eight. He did absolutely nothing about government spying. Nor did he even drop charges against Snowden. Meanwhile, in his very last act as president, he released his former staff from agreements they had signed to not enter the lobbying industry after their time in the White House. Indeed, the guy elected to drain the swamp had added to it in every possible way.
So, with all that in mind, it’s no wonder that people, even those on the right – especially those on the right, have lost faith in the system and have become indifferent to its survival.
The whole thing speaks to a larger sense of fatalism that has gripped the country.
People have never been less invested in the wellbeing of America.
From falling wages to rising costs of living they look out and see dwindling prospects in a shattered economy. Their leaders are more preoccupied with their own political positions and appear to be completely out of touch with the needs of constituents. Not that it would matter if they were in touch, since voters only get taken care of when it is politically convenient.
To have faith in such a system would require either blindness or stupidity. Instead, there are people who are either apathetic to the system’s survival, or outright hostile towards it.
The dream that they were sold as children and which was reinforced throughout their adult lives has evaporated. In Republicans’ case, they were told that the government was running up suicidal debt levels ($27.6 Trillion) for their own benefit. But then, when they asked for $300 billion indirect aid (1.1% of the total debt) they were told that it was too expensive.
It was the type of slap in the face that breeds resentment towards the rich people running the country.
And that appears to be exactly what has happened with Republicans. They have either stopped believing in financial prudence or stopped caring about it. Either way, considering that 72% of them want hundreds of billions in new debt, it would appear that their care for the future of the American system is irrevocably lost.
Indeed, many of them would, without a doubt, vote for Bernie Sanders given the opportunity. It seems ridiculous but the opposite has already happened.
The Sanders-Trump voter is one of the most fascinating political phenomena in modern times. It also perfectly encapsulates the current political reality.
Over 15% of people that voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary went on to vote for Donald Trump in the general election.
On the surface it seems absurd. Both men have completely different visions for the future and the only thing they really agree on is how broken the American system is. Yet, therein lies the rub. To accept that the system is broken and will obstruct any vision you might have for the future, is to recognize that your first priority is getting rid of said system.
So, while conservatives and progressives have entirely different visions of how the world should look post-system, they both know that they can’t really start shaping those worlds until their mutual enemy is gone.
Will conservatives and progressives join forces in an anti-establishment party?