America’s dysfunctional parties cause many of the problems afflicting the United States. You can blame gridlock, failure to address social problems, income inequality, racial division, and growing political polarization on dysfunctional political parties.
I think the Anna Karenina principle applies to political parties. In his classic Anna Karenina, the great Leo Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
In modern parlance, “All functional families are alike. Each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way.” For example, the Smiths are dysfunctional because Mr. and Mrs. Smith are alcoholics. However, the Martinez family is dysfunctional because Mr. Martinez is a criminal who beats his wife.
Similarly, “All functional political parties are alike. Each dysfunctional political party is dysfunctional in its own way.” For example, in 1964; when Pew estimates that 77% of Americans trusted their government, critics complained there was little difference between the two major US political parties.
By 2019; when only 17% of Americans told Pew that they trust their government, the Democrats and Republicans had become dysfunctional in different ways. To elaborate, the Republicans are an ideological cult while the Democratic Party is a fundraising machine.
The Republican Ideological Cult
The best description for the modern Republican Party is as an ideological cult. In an ideological cult, certain ideas become more important than reality.
The best example of an ideological cult is Communism, which tried to suppress any information that contradicted the Marxist-Leninist fantasy. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, for example, banned the teaching and study of genetics because it contradicted Marxist drivel about equality.
The Republican Ideological Cult worships capitalism, rugged individualism, and American exceptionalism. For instance, many Republicans regard any criticism of capitalism as blasphemy and government interference in the markets as a sin.
Likewise, many Republicans attack any history that includes America’s past sins or crimes, no matter how accurate. For example, almost all conservative intellectuals attack The New York Times’ 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project’s crime in Republicans eyes is that it recounts America’s long history of racism and slavery. In other words, Republicans attack The New York Times for recounting well-documented historical facts.
The ideological cult drives Republicans to pursue outrageous and self-destructive goals such as the abolition of Social Security and Medicare. Yet, most pundits believe destroying Social Security and Medicare will be political suicide for Republicans.
For instance, the Social Security Administration estimates 65 million Americans (most of whom vote) received money from Social Security in 2020.* Yet abolition of Social Security is a holy cause for many Republican leaders.
Like the Communists, many Republican intellectuals delude themselves into thinking that the “real people” share their beliefs. However, both Communists and Republicans refuse to ask the people what they believe. Accordingly, wealthy Republican thinkers promote the fantasy that real working-class people don’t want programs such as Social Security.
The Republican Party has become an organized exercise in the denial of reality. Notably, many Republicans deny well-established science about global warming, spread false narratives about voter fraud, and refuse to accept obvious election results.
The Republican Personality Cult
In another parallel to Communism, the Republicans are devolving from an ideological cult to a personality cult.
Once in power, all the Communist parties became personality cults dedicated to glorifying leaders. The Russian Communist Party worshipped Lenin’s dead body and glorified Stalin as a genius. Similar cults appeared in China, Vietnam, and Cuba.
Today’s Republican Party is degenerating into a personality cult around President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). Republican leaders who once attacked Trump, such as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), now mindlessly defend the President. Graham and US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) parrot Trump’s false allegations of election fraud and spread the lie that the Donald won the 2020 presidential election.
I think the Trump personality cult and the Republican ideological cult are unsustainable for the same reason. They based the Communist ideological and personality cults on terror and violence.
The Soviet ideological cult succeeded because the party could pitch anybody who questioned Communism into the Gulag. Similarly, the NKVD sent anybody who questioned Stalin’s competence to the Gulag.
Without terror, an ideological cult becomes an obnoxious joke. Likewise, a political personality cult becomes cheap satire without terror. The Republicans will either have to result to terror; as Trump demands, or find an alternative belief system. Since there is no appetite for terrorism among Americans I predict Trumpism and the current Republican Party will collapse.
Remember, the Soviet Union collapsed when leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev refused to engage in terror. Gorbachev and his predecessors dismantled Stalin’s police state, which kept the Communist Party in power.
In contrast, in China; where Deng Xiaoping strengthened the police state and unleashed terror at Tiananmen Square, the Communist Party is in still in power. History shows ideological cults and personality cults without terror and police states fail.
I predict Republicans will try to manufacture another personality cult around another hero now that history is exposing Trump as a fraud and a buffoon. Once history exposes the next Republican savior as a fraud, I think the Grand Old Party will collapse.
The Democratic Fundraising Machine
Fundraising is the primary activity of the modern Democratic Party. Republicans value loyalty to ideology or Trump more than winning elections. Incredibly, I think modern Democrats value fundraising more than electoral victory.
For example, Jaime Harrison raised $108 million in the 2020 South Carolina U.S. Senate race, The State estimates. Yet, Harrison lost that race to U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham by a margin of 54.5% to 44.2%.
Harrison’s performance was not much better than that of the last Democrat to challenge Graham. In 2014, Brad Hutto received 37.6% of the vote to Graham’s 55.3%. Hence Democrats raised $108 million to lose by 10%.
Harrison was one of several Democratic losers who raised enormous amounts of money in 2020. In Maine, Sara Gideon raised $68.577 million for her challenge to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R) Open Secrets estimates. However, Collins won by a margin of 51.1% to 42.2%.
Hence, the Democrats have become experts at fundraising but cannot win elections. Disturbingly, some Democrats make a cult of fundraising.
In particular, Democratic leaders tailor policies to please fundraisers rather than voters. For instance, Politico claims that U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) said, “we are going to run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we’re not going to win,” during a 5 November 2020 caucus call.
Reality, however, casts doubt upon Clyburn’s claims. Voters reelected all 118 US Representatives who cosponsored a Medicare for All Bill on 3 November 2020, Jacobin’s Luke Savage notes. In contrast, Savage estimates eight of the House Democrats who ran against Medicare for All Lost.
Clyburn received over $1 million from political action committees associated with pharmaceutical companies in 10 years, Kaiser Health News alleges. Pharmaceutical companies could lose money if Medicare for All limits the prices they can charge for drugs.
Skeptics will charge Clyburn’s genuine interest is fundraising rather than winning elections. Clyburn represents a safe district in South Carolina and serves as that state’s Democratic political boss.
I think Democratic leaders; such as Clyburn, view fundraising as their primary activity. Those leaders pick candidates and policies designed to please donors rather than voters.
For example, in 2020 I saw an advertisement for Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden (Delaware) that stated Biden will not raise taxes on people make under $400,000. Yet the US Census Bureau estimates the average Household Income in the United States was $68,703 in 2019.
Additionally, Statista estimates only 10.3% of US households made over $200,200 a year in 2019. Taking a position intended to attract less than 10.3% of the population is a poor way to win elections.
However, keeping taxes low on those make over $200,000 is a good way to attract checks from big-money donors. Notably, Biden for President (the Biden campaign) collected $937.67 million in 2020, Open Secrets estimates. In contrast, Donald J. Trump for President collected $595.63 million.
I think fundraising is the primary goal of the Democratic Party. Democratic leaders value the ability to attract money over the ability to attract votes.
If the Democratic Party was a venture capital fund, a hedge fund, or an investment bank these priorities could be laudable. Unfortunately, the Democrats are a political party.
The goals of a political party should be to win elections, take power, keep power, and implement policies. However, the primary goal of the modern Democratic Party is to make more and more money.
The fundraising obsession is why Democrats chose candidates such as Biden. To explain, Biden has no obvious ideology and offers no policies. Hence, Biden offends nobody and can attract funds from a wide donor pool.
Similarly, candidates with powerful ideologies, such as Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) hide their convictions. For example, Hillary favors basic income and single-payer healthcare; two positions that could attract votes, but drive donors away. Yet Clinton refused to discuss those positions in her 2016 presidential run.
When will the Democratic Bubble Burst
I think the Democratic fundraising machine is as unsustainable as the Republican ideological cult and personality cult. To elaborate, I think donors will tire of giving money to candidates who lose at some point.
In fact, I think the Democratic fundraising efforts resemble a financial bubble. A classic bubble bursts when investors panic and pull their money out of the market. Hence, I think the Democratic fundraising bubble will burst when donors put their checkbooks away.
A probable outcome of the bursting of the fundraising bubble will be that rank-and-file Democrats will turn on the party leaders. A wave of prosecutions of financial fraudsters and attacks on investment gurus usually follows a bear market. For instance, they imprisoned Bernie Madoff; a blatant investment fraudster who had operated openly for decades, after the 2008 meltdown.
Thus, we will see a wave of attacks on and investigations of Democratic leaders when the fundraising bubble bursts. For instance, I expect to see many news stories about Jim Clyburn’s secret overseas bank account and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) private jet.
I think the Democratic fundraising bubble is an example of finacialization. Under financialisation, raising and managing money becomes the primary activity of business and the driving force of the economy. A finanicalized economy can generate enormous amounts of debt but produces fewer and fewer hard goods or useful services.
The Democrat’s fundraising obsession is an example of political financialisation. The Democrats raise more money than ever but win fewer and fewer elections. Similarly, America’s stock market raises enormous amounts of money for the rich, while ignoring corporate performance.
Why are the Political Parties Dysfunctional?
History explains the two major parties’ dysfunctions. Until about 1980, both parties were quite functional.
The parties became dysfunctional in the 1970s and 1980s. Democrats became dysfunctional after the election of 1972. In 1972, Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat in the presidential election, winning just one state, Massachusetts. Overall, US Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) won just 17 electoral college votes.
Democrats took lessons from that defeat. First, all ideology and policy are toxic and will lead to defeat. McGovern was an unabashed leftist who promoted such wonky notions as basic income. Second, to win candidates need enormous amounts of money.
Democratic leaders such as President Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas), Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York), Biden, and Pelosi took those lessons to heart. They created an ideology free and policy party, capable of raising enormous amounts of money.
In contrast, Republicans doubled down on ideology during the 1970s and 1980s. To explain, Republicans were America’s minority party when they adopted centrist policies. For instance, Republicans did not control the US House of Representatives for a 40-year period from 1954 to 1994.
However, under blatantly ideological figures such as President Ronald Reagan (R-California) and US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) Republicans won. Republicans learned ideology wins elections, so they became ideological.
The result is that America has one political party that makes a cult of its ideology and another that makes a cult of centrism. The parties’ dysfunction paved the way for the demagogue President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida).
To explain, Trump won by attracting the votes of disillusioned working-class people who believed Democrats had betrayed them. In addition, Trump created a personality cult that appeals to the all the disillusioned ideologues in the Republican Party.
I think Trumpism will fail because it can achieve nothing and create no permanent institutions. Instead, the Trumpists will destroy the Republican Party and throw the political system into chaos.
Hence, America will need something new to replace the two dysfunctional political parties. I think the result of the dysfunction will be a new leadership cadre in one or two of the parties.
Unfortunately, I do not see where that leadership will come from. However, it could take the total collapse of both parties for new leadership to emerge. Given the events of the past four years, I think such a collapse is possible.
America’s dysfunctional political parties will collapse, leading to a new political order. Only future history will show us what the new political order will be.