The Republican Party (1854-2016) On The Table: Contextualizing the Trump Phenomenon (Part K)
More on the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze"
I'd like to continue with a can of worms I opened up in Part J: the Good-Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze.
In Part J, in brief, I began to make the following case: That in the United States of America, public policy is largely articulated and effected by what I have called the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze," with center-left leftward playing the role of the humanitarian "Good Cop," and the authoritarian, stern center-right rightward playing the role of the conservative "Bad Cop."
I talked about how I see this working in various areas of public policy. For review, let's consider immigration (reform) once again.
- The Good Cop squad are the Democrats, the liberals, center-left, the MSNBC crowd, as I call them, who pump the "path to citizenship" line.
- The Bad Cop squad are the Republicans, conservatives, center-right, the Fox News crowd, as I call them who pump the "law and order" line (recall Donald Trump talking about building a separation wall and making the country of Mexico pay for it).
- You have to remember that when we speak of "immigration" in the United States of America, these days, we are talking about Mexicans (both undocumented and legal status, I would argue). But for our purposes, we are talking about undocumented, migrant Mexican laborers.
- The 800-lb gorilla in the room, whom nobody will acknowledge is corporate interests and corporate power. (What would farms and various business interests, particularly centered in the American South and Southwest, not to mention rich white elites all over the country who need their nannies and gardeners, do without a docile, migrant Mexican workforce?)
- The real issue is the contradiction between the free movement of capital (NAFTA) and the restriction of movement of labor, as exemplified by the beefed up militarization of the border (see "Operation Gatekeeper": Wikipedia).
- Are we ever going to pick a lane and either liberate both the movement of capital and labor; or restrict the movement of capital as well as that of labor?
- This contradiction serves the interests of the corporate sector as a whole, so business can work the migrant Mexican workers FOR CHEAP! Their "illegal" status makes a pretty good hammer to hold over their heads to ensure compliance and docility under almost any and all horrendous circumstances.
- Because we no longer have a party, in the United States of America, that challenges corporate power (a la the FDR New Deal Democrats); and because both major parties need the corporate sector to provide them with campaign funds (costs constantly rising), corporate power is off the table.
- Because corporate power is off the table as an area of contention between the Republicans and Democrats, their adversarial engagement around "immigration" (Mexicans) had to take another form, the form I say amounts to the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze," which has, as its real target, migrant Mexican workers.
I believe that the goal of the right-left, conservative-liberal, Fox News-MSNBC discourse on "immigration" (Mexicans) is to keep migrant Mexican workers constantly confused, fearful, not knowing what will befall them next; to get them to conclude that the best thing they can do to stay in the United States is to keep their heads down and take any and all crap they are fed by their exploitative employers.
Does that makes sense?
Therefore, you may say to yourself (I'm going to vote for Joe Blow because he is "reasonable" on immigration), and you may think that you are casting a vote for "moderation"---but I argue that the thing to do is observe how "moderation" works in concert with "extremism," in the absence of contestation over the issue of corporate power.
How we doing? Alright?
I talked about how I see the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze" playing out with the issue of torture, voter suppression, and welfare policy.
The New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society Consensus Roughly 1933-1981
With the Great Depression and the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who ushered in something called the New Deal, the Democratic Party was remade as the party that would challenge corporate power. The Republican party would advocate for corporate power.
I am simplifying in broad strokes to make a point.
The New Deal consensus (circa 1933-1981) even had a liberalizing effect on the Republican party. For example, even the Republican Richard M. Nixon governed as a liberal on many domestic issues. He indexed Social Security for inflation; created Supplemental Income (a major program for the disabled elderly); expanded government regulation of workplace safety and environmental standards; and tried to introduce universal health insurance (1).
As you know, there used to be honest-to-God liberals in the Republican party. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, succeeded by Bernie Sanders, may well have been one of the GOP's very last liberals. Jeffords was in office from January 3, 1989 to January 3, 2007 (Wikipedia).
Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism
Roughly with the ascension of Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1981, and the roughly simultaneous onset of what are called neoliberalism and neoconservatism, corporate power came off the table as the central issue of contestation between the Democrats and Republicans, only to be replaced by race and other culture war issues.
One of the foremost researchers of the American power structure is professor emeritus of UC Santa Barbara, is G. William Domhoff. Dr. Domhoff writes that:
"...polls suggested that even though a majority of blue collar and white collar employees disliked the anti-war movement, they were opposed to the war as well. It therefore seems more plausible that the defections were due to backlash against the Democrats' support for integration. Within the UAW, for example, a majority of the members were resolute in the belief that the civil rights movement had gone too far too fast, and should go no further.
"It is this defection by white trade unionists from the Democrats, not the alleged sudden organization of the corporate community, which explains the right turn in the United States on labor and many other issues. A fractured liberal-labor alliance was defeated by an enlarged corporate-conservative alliance that was revitalized by the resentment of white Democrats and Independents over the demands by the civil rights movement, feminists, environmentalists, and soon thereafter, the gay-lesbian movement" (2).
Paul Krugman backs up this analysis, writing that "[w]hat happened in the sixties was that Republicans learned how to exploit emerging cultural resentments and fears to win elections. Above all, Republicans learned how to exploit white backlash against civil rights and its consequences" (3).
You have to understand that although most white Americans probably favor racial equality, this was not always the case. "In the sixties, however, many white Americans found the push for civil rights deeply disturbing and threatening" (4).
Question: Does this mean that the issue of concentrated corporate power was replaced by issues of race, gender, environmentalism, and gay-lesbian rights, as the pivotal areas of contestation between the Republicans and Democrats?
Answer: I'm going to say 'yes' to that, for the brief window of time from 1964, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act to about 1977, with the election of Jimmy Carter of Georgia to the White House.
Question: Why that time span?
Answer: Because with the opening of the 1980s, a great deal of backlash manifested itself against those issues (particularly race). The supposed failure of the social programs of the sixties and seventies, along with the city rioting that went on, led many liberals to become so-called neoconservatives. There used to be a saying around Washington that "a neoconservative is a liberal mugged by reality."
The problem today is that racial justice, gender rights, environmental concerns, and LGBT matters no longer form the basis of contention between the two major parties. That is to say, we no longer have a political party that advocates for those things in the mainstream.
Those constituencies still nominally belong to the Democratic party, but they are consigned to the party's liberal base.
The Democratic party has what is called its liberal base.
The Republican party has what is called its conservative base.
The liberal base is supposed to be the foundational, primordial wellspring of undiluted Democratic liberalism. It is supposed to be the very soil out of which the Democratic party grows.
The conservative base is supposed to be the foundational, primordial wellspring of undiluted Republican conservatism. It is supposed to be the very soil out of which the Republican party grows.
Now, the Democratic "base" and the Republican "base" serve two very different functions in American politics today.
- I would argue that the party respects the upper establishment of the party.
- But that it disrespects its "lower" base.
- That in U.S. Democratic politics the base exists to be ridiculed and mocked, ignored, and mushed in the face, in order to show the public that he or she is "independent," and responsible, as well as "bipartisan."
- That the liberal base of the Democratic party is like the crazy old aunt, locked away in an institution, mumbling to herself and drooling. You love her. She's family. But you never talk about her. She is an embarrassment.
- I would argue that the party respects the "lower" base.
- But that the Republicans actually disrespects the "upper" party establishment.
- That is U.S. politics the conservative base of the party drives the agenda.
You see it when you watch the news at night. You see it when you watch Meet the Press, The McLaughlin Group, and all the Sunday morning political shows. You see it when you watch Charlie Rose on PBS, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, and Fox News every day.
What we see is that the Democratic party almost delights in giving its own base the finger; while the Republican party embraces its base with open arms.
Stay with me.
- Because corporate power is off the table as a bone of contention, the Democratic party cannot joust with the Republicans, on the issue of immigration (Mexicans), on the fundamental contradiction between freedom of capital movement and the restriction of labor movement.
- Because race is off the table as a bone of contention, the Democratic party cannot joust with the Republicans, on the issue of immigration (Mexicans), on basis of racial justice.
- The only thing that is left to the Democrats is a weak argument that "We're a nation of immigrants," and advocacy for a "path to citizenship," countered by the Republicans, "We're a nation of laws" line.
- These positions line up, in effect, into the Good Cop-Bad Cop dance, that redounds to the benefit of businesses and wealthy elites that use undocumented, migrant Mexican labor.
The 1993 election of William Jefferson Clinton to the White House represents the first time the Democratic party successfully ran against itself.
Let me say that again: The election of Clinton in 1993, represents the first time the Democratic party won by successfully running against itself: by honoring its "upper" establishment (the DLC) and disrespecting its liberal base. This is the formula which gave us the New Democrats, after all, with Mr. Clinton putting one hundred thousand more cops on the street, and "ending welfare as we know it," and all that.
I suppose we can say that the Republican party did not feel the need to start running against itself (by honoring its "lower" base and disrespecting its "upper" establishment) until 2009, or so, during the course of the bailouts of the financial institutions. You may recall that the movement traces itself back to the Rick Santelli rant, disapproving of federal relief for homeowners who had been victimized by subprime mortgages.
The Way Its Supposed To Work
The Presidential Primaries
What is supposed to happen is that the Republican candidate the appeals best to the conservative base is supposed to emerge victorious with the party's nomination. Then, as he or she faced the general election contest against the opposite, Democratic candidate---the Republican is supposed to "tack to the center," to appeal to the general national electorate.
In theory, the same is supposed to apply to the Democrat. Whoever emerges as victorious out of the primary process, should be the one that appeals best to the liberal base of the party. Then, facing his or her Republican rival in the general election, the Democrat also make the "tack to the center."
But Bernie Sanders did not ultimately emerge victorious from this season's primary contests. The centrist Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton did.
Apparently, Democratic politicians cannot play the liberal base drum nearly as stridently as they once could in, say, the 1980s. By the way, do yourself a favor and go to cspan.org and watch the Democratic primary debates from the 1980s, featuring Jesse Jackson, Mike Dukakis, Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, Gary Hart, and Walter Mondale.
You may find yourself, asking yourself, as I do, if the Democratic party will ever be that liberal again. And this is hard to remember now, but one of the planks of Jesse Jacksons' Presidential campaigns was reparations for the descendants of black slaves (Wikipedia, Jesse Jackson Presidential Campaign, 1988).
But Democrats don't even play to their base in primaries anymore; certainly not since 2004 when Reverend Al Sharpton and Senator Bob Graham of Florida sought the nomination, and actually talked about creating a federal government works program; and when Senator John Edwards of North Carolina actually campaigned on a platform to end poverty in America.
Poverty! That word hadn't been heard out of the mouth of a Democratic politician since Lyndon Johnson!
Anyway here's the deal.
When a party runs against its base and honors its establishment (Democrats), you tend to get relatively conservative characters.
When a party runs against its establishment and honors its base (Republicans), you tend to get relatively flamboyant, "populist" types. The Tea Party movement might be considered an earlier manifestation of this tendency. Donald Trump is the latest manifestation.
Of course, the advantage has to go to Secretary Clinton for the general election. That is because her journey to the center is going to be much easier and shorter than Donald Trump's.
I'd like to discuss the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze further in Part L. So that is what we shall do.
Thank you for reading!
1. Krugman, Paul. The Conscience of a Liberal. W.W. Norton, 2007. 81
2. Domhoff, G.W. (2013, February). The Rise and Fall of Labor Unions In The U.S.: From the 1830s Until 2012 (but mostly the 1930s - 1980s). Retrieved August 17, 2016, from www2.ucsc.edu./whorulesamerica.
3. Krugman, P. The Conscience of a Liberal. 82