Has the Democratic Party joined the Republican Party in becoming inhospitable to the accommodation of intraparty factions?
Hillary Clinton must juggle three competing interest groups: her party’s upscale pro-trade, globalist wing; its underdog minority wing; and organized labor. She is paying a price for her triple allegiance.
Clinton’s outspoken support for African-American, Hispanic and immigrant rights has contributed to new levels of Republican loyalty among white working class voters. The Oct. 30 A.B.C. tracking pollfound Trump ahead of Clinton by 38 points among white men without college degrees and by 27 points among white women without college degrees.
Clinton also has deep roots among relatively affluent, professional Democratic voters, who tend to support the trans-Pacific Partnership and are largely tolerant of the business sector. This fits well with her ties to investment banking, but has cost her with segments of organized labor and with the idealistic, anti-business millennial voters who turned out in strength for Senator Bernie Sanders during the primaries.
Clinton’s association with Wall Street — illustrated in transcripts of her Q. and A. sessions with top officials at Goldman Sachs — has added to the erosion of backing from 18 to 29 year olds. These youthful voters were decisively pro-Obama, supporting him by 34 and 23 points in 2008 and 2012. By Oct 31 of this year, according to A.B.C., their earlier 56-21 margin of support for Clinton had fallen to 48-35.
In the Goldman Sachs sessions, Clinton’s comments reflect her commitment to the American financial sector. Many Occupy veterans, however, for whom a degree of anticapitalism has become reflexive, contend that Clinton’s comments reveal an excessive deference to Fortune 500 firms.
In one Goldman Sachs talk, Clinton was clearly sympathetic to the concerns of the finance industry, noting that assessing the right level of regulation is no easy task:
There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.
Segments of the Democratic left — including many followers of Senator Elizabeth Warren — remain determinedly critical of Clinton’s sympathy for business goals even though, in terms of her policy agenda, the left has little or no basis for complaint. The Democratic platform is the most progressive in the history of the party. So too is the Clinton campaign’s governing blueprint, which calls for the enactment of almost every proposal advocated by liberal interest groups.
But even as the labor movement strongly supports this year’s Democratic platform, many on the broader left are suspicious of the Clinton family’s entanglement with wealthy donors. This is not surprising, particularly in light of the fact that, as the Washington Postreported in November 2015, “The grand total raised for all of their political campaigns and their family’s charitable foundation reaches at least $3 billion.”
Clinton’s difficulties speak to the challenges of reconciling the various interests within a changing Democratic coalition.
Class-based New Deal liberalism has been challenged by the collapse of manufacturing employment, the Great Recession of 2008, immigration, the erosion of cultural conservatism, the decline of unions, racial and ethnic divisions among those with low to moderate incomes, and the realignment of whites with professional degrees from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.
At the same time, major segments of the corporate universe, especially high tech, have become Democratic mainstays, in terms of votes and money.
The most recent data on Opensecrets shows that Clinton received $55.7 million from the communications/technology sector to Trump’s $1.0 million. The major Democratic Party committees also dominate contributions from telecom services, internet companies, electronic manufacturers, business service companies and the TV/radio/music industry.In June 2016, CNN foundthat while Donald Trump had received contributions from 52 employees of technology firms, Clinton had received 2,087 such contributions.
Understandably, this largess sits well with the pro-business faction within Democratic ranks.
Schisms in the Democratic Party pale in comparison to schisms within the larger population, as partisan divisions are being overshadowed by an emerging split — in this country and abroad — between what can loosely be described as globalists versus nationalists, of cosmopolitan versus parochial interests.
Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business, argues in two recent articles that 2016 marks “the year that the battle between globalists and nationalists became the central axis of conflict within and across many nations, especially in Europe and the United States.”
Haidt describes nationalists as follows:
Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue; they think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. Some nationalists do believe that their country is better than all others, and some nationalisms are plainly illiberal and overtly racist. But as many defenders of patriotism have pointed out, you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others.
I asked Haidt where Clinton fits into this scheme, and he replied in an email:
She’s a globalist, through and through. Globalist morality tends to be very concerned about human rights and transnational concerns, especially those related to suffering and oppression. One of Clinton’s most famous lines from the 1990s is her speech in Beijing where she said “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
Along similar lines, Charles Stewart, a political scientist at M.I.T., makes the case that restraints on spending and tax hikes that have been in place since the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan have created incentives in both parties to shift toward “identity politics.”
The result, Stewart wrote in an email, is the emergence of two competing identities or “two distinct views about what constitutes a good society, one cosmopolitan and the other parochial.”
David Leege, a professor of political science emeritus at Notre Dame, has a parallel, but different, take. He argues that “a major source of the unwieldiness is the changed meaning of liberalism/conservatism” that can no longer be measured “along an economic dimension” alone.
By the year 2000, Leege argues, the Republican Party and conservative movement successfully merged “white nativism” with “the family values” appeal to demonize “blacks, Hispanics, single mothers, Hollywood, educated elites at the universities who did not advocate or live the moral life of conservative Protestants and Catholics” as “unworthy of recognition by the state with financial resources.”
The result, according to Leege, has been “a new referent for ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ anchored in cultural differences, i.e., the way we are supposed to live as an American people. It has strong overtones of change and expressive individualism, on the one hand, and tradition and respect for authority on the other” — a division similar to that of globalists v. nationalists and cosmopolitan v. parochial.
Clinton’s struggles, in the view of David Mayhew, a political scientist at Yale, reflect disturbing developments within the Democratic Party. In an email, Mayhew wrote:
The Democratic Party has become inhospitable to the accommodation of multiple intraparty interests. That is obvious. Clinton’s crack about the “deplorables” and “irredeemables” wasn’t just a misstatement. It was a window into the thinking of the party’s current activist core. Central to the party’s mind-set is an arrogant dismissal of a major share of the U.S. population. These folks are dismissed as incapable of making judgments about their own lives, their aspirations, and the larger politics and society surrounding them.
Mayhew warned: “This dismissiveness does not go unnoticed.”
Haidt puts it this way:
Globalists see nationalists as hopelessly parochial. The word “parochial” means, literally, concerned with matters of the local parish, rather than the larger world. But as it is commonly used, the word is an insult. OxfordDictionaries.com offers these synonyms: narrow-minded, illiberal, intolerant, conservative.
There is a case to be made for the contribution so-called elites make to the progressive project, disagreements between globalists and nationalists notwithstanding.
Daron Acemoglu, an MIT economist, argues that the left alliance needs its upscale wing.
Democrats, Acemoglu argues, “should seek a coalition that stands for the most vulnerable people in society,” but he believes “such a coalition could not stand by itself without the support of influential, well-off members of American society.”
Such a coalition is possible, Acemoglu said,
As long as the Democratic Party shakes off its hard-core anti-market, pro-union stance, there is a huge constituency of well-educated, socially conscious Americans that will join in.
Realistically, the likelihood that Democrats will abandon labor in the foreseeable future is zero.
Neither Clinton nor Trump has shown a noticeable talent for reconciliation. But the process of finding common ground between globalists and nationalists, between business and anti-business factions, between ethnic and racial identity groups, between male and female voters — both within the Democratic Party and between the two parties — has to be a priority. That process must begin in earnest in just six days, the morning after Election Day.