I find it lonely, not being able to identify with either the Republican or the Democratic party. I regret that they have left me behind. Each is hurtling forward along on an increasingly weird and alienating rhetorical arc, becoming ever more oriented toward the constituencies who still find the establishment line urgent and interesting. Both parties are curiously bereft of talent, of true leadership and direction. I see no one I want to follow. For the first time in my life, I feel that there is no one out ahead of the rest of us, articulating what we need to be doing, where we should be going now. I look at the strange pass that the two parties have come to, at their increasingly desperate struggle for supremacy, and I wonder how much more time will pass before they collapse and fail.
What do I mean by a “weird and alienating rhetorical arc”? In the case of the Republicans, I mean an opportunism and a style of revenge politics that is ignoble, unchristian, unpatriotic, and downright damaging to the nation. Trump is too small a man to leave the sound policies of his predecessor in place, while Republicans in Congress, determined to destroy the Affordable Care Act, have shown a callousness toward ordinary citizens that few initiatives in American politics can match. (Remember the heat Reagan took when he went after school lunches?) In Alabama, voters for Roy Moore showed the same willingness to throw moral scruples aside for the sake of partisan advantage.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, doubling down on the very points that doomed them in 2016, are blazing a weirdly alienating arc of their own. Democratic-leaning commentators are back to reading poll-numbers like tea-leaves. They have not gone out to get to know the “fly-over zone.” They are back in their privileged haunts, pontificating. In the face of Trump’s victory, and given the many heinous aspects of the President’s behavior, the Democrats have found an excuse to ignore the legitimate frustrations of Trump’s voter base. That Democrats need to win over some of these voters hasn’t kept them from behaving like patronizing snobs. Democrats who believe they can write off the white vote, or the rural vote, or the vote of people who are working-class and uneducated, are as callous and provincial as their Republican foes. Circumstances have thrust Democrats in a defensive posture. If they can’t break out of it and review what America needs, they’ll be in big trouble in 2018.
Personally, I expect to remain ambivalent about the parties until I hear someone articulating a politics that is plausible, efficient, and broadly humane. I want to hear from candidates whose interests are truly national: who have fresh ideas about wringing prosperity from our own resources while mitigating the degradation of the natural world. I want to hear from candidates who want to beautify and uplift local economies, who care about bridging the urban-rural divide. I want to hear from candidates about bringing immigrants out of the shadows, giving every inhabitant of our country a legal status, and controlling our borders in ways that are smart and modern. I want to hear from candidates with new ideas about public schooling and work, who believe the US can become a new kind of “maker nation,” one whose future is more creditable and peaceable than its past. Bring on a capacious and inclusive vision, and save us from the desiccated remnants ruling the republic now.