By Ken Trainor
Among the many comments posted online this past week following my column naming the Republican Party as the "problem that causes so many problems," I most enjoyed the one from "OP Resident #545 from Oak Park," who wrote: "While I dislike getting too personal, this drivel [right-wingers love the word "drivel"] explains clearly why the author hasn't risen above this station in his career … [He] is in no way as smart as he'd like to think he is."
Guilty as charged: I'm not that smart. I meet people who are smarter all the time. A lot of very sharp people live in these two towns. I'm just not sure OP Resident #545 is one of them (hard to tell from a knee-jerk reaction). As for my station in life, it's fun writing for people who are smarter. In fact, I'm not sure it's possible to rise above the Oak Park-River Forest station in life.
But while I may not be the brightest bulb in the batch, I'm smart enough to know a bankrupt ideology when I see one. I can also recognize a dying political party. Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger. Everyone else is probably too polite to point out the obvious.
Long ago, the Republicans set out to move American politics to the right. And it worked. The Democratic Party is no longer on the left side of the political spectrum but very much anchored in the middle of the road. In fact, they're now roughly where the Republican Party was 50 years ago — before the elephant started its severe rightward veer.
The Democratic Party has become more conservative, much to the dismay of liberals. But they haven't sold out completely. Democrats still believe government can be a force for good. They also embrace the free market — but only if it's regulated.
In many ways, Barack Obama is the perfect blend of progressive and conservative. As was Bill Clinton.
So the GOP has succeeded — but at what cost?
Be careful what you wish for. The price of success is steep indeed — the death of the Republican Party (not yet, but sooner than later).
It doesn't take a genius to see that if a party doesn't believe in government, it won't be able to sustain a political majority. It's an insurmountable contradiction. You can't govern if you don't believe in government. You can't govern well anyway. Whenever the Republicans do gain power, they prove my point.
Eventually, people are going to notice.
But by temperament, political conservatives are not hard-wired to make adjustments (like the Democrats did from 1980 to the present). Inflexibly stubborn and afflicted by absolute certainty, the right wing can't admit when they're wrong.
So in spite of my limited intelligence, and sundry other character defects, here's my prediction on how this will all play out over the next quarter-century or so.
But first, a little historical context:
The Democrats and the Republicans got their start way back in 1791 as a single organization — the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They controlled the presidency, Congress and most state houses from 1801-1825, then split into separate entities. The Republicans became the Whigs and then, in 1854, regrouped as the Republican Party.
Today's Democrats are coming full circle. They're turning back into the Democratic-Republican Party, which will, for a while, wield great influence because the middle is where most of the voters can be found. Moderate progressives and moderate conservatives will find common ground and a new political home there, basically ending this awful era of political polarization.
In the short term, the Republicans may "win" control of Congress because the rapidly-growing minority population — along with women, reportedly — haven't figured out that it's important to vote in "off-year" elections.
When they do figure it out — probably 2018 — the Republican Party is finished.
For some time, the Democratic-Republican progressive powerhouse will get a lot done and everyone will be better off for it (if it's not already too late, planet-wise). Unfortunately, single parties usually end up being corrupted by power and compromised by money (observe the Democratic domination in Springfield). Wall Street will embrace the new party and pour in the money because they were never really anti-government — they know where their bread is buttered.
So the D-Rs will need other parties to step up and provide competition. The Green Party should make headway as the world's climate catastrophes get more and more catastrophic. The Greens will represent the long-neglected liberals — and attract those who realize the liberals weren't so far off base after all.
The current extremist version of the Republican Party, on the other hand, will likely be absorbed by two entities: The crackpot Tea Partiers and the Libertarians. But neither will be able to overcome the insurmountable contradiction: You can't govern if you don't believe in government.
As the United States becomes a majority-minority country, and as the political pendulum inevitably swings back to the left, the D-Rs will evolve into the new conservative party. The right-wing fringe will either be hopelessly marginalized, come to terms with the D-Rs, or simply die off.
I'm not sure what will happen after that.
Nobody is that smart.
Answer Book 2016
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