Election highlights conflicts caused by years of shifting ideologies within America’s dominant political parties.
By: Michael Blackwell and Kelli Green
This election season has been full of many unprecedented twists and turns, some of which throw into question everything we think we know about America’s political parties. However, if you look at the history of these parties, it quickly becomes clear that this blow up was not only unsurprising, but was in fact inevitable.
Though the official foundings of the current dominant parties were over one hundred fifty years ago, the current ideology of each only came about in the 1960s and 70s.
Prior to this, many of their stances were flipped from what we associate them to be. The Republican party was founded several years prior to the Civil War with the express purpose of stopping the spread of slavery into new states and in the North. While the Democratic party had existed as the traditionalist anti federal government party since almost the founding of the country.
With all of the push and pull going on in the presidential election, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the two major parties are picking on each other.
Today’s Ann Coulter-esque Republicans love to remind the American people that it was the Republican party that was responsible for the freedom of slaves and the Democrats fought against it.This particular statement has been thrown around by some people in today’s Republican party in a way to make them seem more appealing to skeptical voters who are less than convinced of their compassion towards some Americans.
Following the Civil War, the complete single party dominance held by the Republican party lead in increasing corruption within it due to the lack of checks and opposition.
This resulted in the party shifting focus away from civil and social issues and towards issues that favored the corporate tycoons who dumped money in on to the party’s leadership.
By the turn of the century, big business had nearly the entire Republican party, and most of the US government, in their pocket, allowing them free reign to form monopolies and trusts over much of the country’s commerce.
Meanwhile, the Democratic party still held to their traditional beliefs and dominated the much less populated South. They enforced segregation and clung to their confederate ideals while the opposition became increasingly indifferent to those concerns.
At this time, voter fraud and election racketeering were rampant as both parties did everything in their power to preserve their control.
From this discord rose the Progressive movement, an extra party coalition of dissatisfied people who banded together, joining whichever party was dominant in their area in order to change things.
This lead to numerous advancements, including women’s suffrage, and culminated with the elections of two progressive aligned presidents, one from each party.
Teddy Roosevelt, from the Republicans, broke the stranglehold big business had over the American economy and political system, while also establishing most of what would become modern federal environmental programs.
Woodrow Wilson of the democratic party ended the single party dominance that allowed the corruption to happen in the first place. Wilson, though still in line with certain old standards of his party, also represented the first shift of the democratic party in the direction of liberalism and progressivism.
The movement, however, ground to a halt during the first world war. Things further stagnated in the apathy that set in after the war ended until all other concerns were drowned out with the onset of the great depression.
As the depression dragged on, old values and allegiances became less important in the face of the crisis, and people became much more willing to try new ideas.
It was into this environment that Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. FDR is arguably the first modern democrat as his ‘New Deal’ policies, designed to counter the depression, formed the basis for what would become modern welfare and social security programs.
His sweeping reforms, openness to new ideas and willing to break with traditions won over the vast majority of progressives and set the stage for future movements including the Civil Rights movement.
It also drew the ire of certain traditionalists within his own party. Following his unprecedented four terms, the massive coalition of differing viewpoints that he had assembled allowed his party to dominate.
Meanwhile, the Republican party waned in relevance. Without the backing of progressive interests the Republican party was left with only its limited following of business interests, and its influence became less and less with each election they lost.
The increasingly progressive direction of the Democratic party began to alienate the traditional southern membership of the party who felt as if they were being left behind. This came to a head during the Civil Rights Movement when Strom Thurmond and his southern Democrats began openly clashing with the progressive wing of the party over the issue of segregation.
As he started breaking with the party leadership he was approached by the leader of the Republican party, Richard Nixon, with an alliance to boost their dwindling movements back into a political force. Dubbed the ‘Southern Strategy’ this oddball coalition of big business interests and southern rural concerns became the foundation of the modern Republican party and lead them through many successful elections during the near half century that followed.
However now we are seeing this decades old alliance come apart at the seams. Over time the business interest faction of the republican party came to dominate its held offices more and more even as they paid less and less attention to the issues that concerned the rural voters who made up the bulk of the party… And now those voters have started to take notice.
This first started to show during the terms of President Obama with the rise of Ted Cruz and the Tea Party movement who openly clashed with the party’s standing leadership over priorities. It finally came to its head with the rise of Trump during the presidential primary. Trump’s outrageousness and disrespect for the established system resonated deeply with this group who felt that once again their party was putting their concerns on the back burner and who were becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the government as a whole.
This comes at a time when opinion of the two party system is at an all time low and nearly everyone is itching for change. The Democratic party also nearly had a former outsider take its nomination as Bernie Sanders came within only a few percentage points of Hillary Clinton who prior to his entering the race was expected to take the nomination virtually unopposed.
It remains to be seen whether the Republican party can hold together through the election as Trump continues to clash with high ranking party official even as both sides seek unity. Though they aren’t as divided as the Republicans, many Democrats are still deeply dissatisfied with their party’s nominee after the contentious primary. Regardless of what happens this election season change is on the horizon for both Democrats and Republicans.