Who and or what are the two major American political parties these days? A recent Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal (March 20) by Gerald F. Seib, a brilliant and objective viewer of such things, outlined the fast-shifting landscape of political coalitions.
The Trumpian Republican electoral coalition captured traditionally Democratic "hard hat" and "lunch bucket" white men in America's Middle, with red meat positions on saving and/or bringing back jobs. Bare-knuckle threats on China tariffs were made along with taking the US out of the TPP ( Trans Pacific (Trade) Partnership) Trump abandoned. After that, with some softer headlines, the President wondered about getting back in, with "better terms," but no other country seemed interested and China will dominate Asian trade rules. All this was coupled with tough talk and regulations on both illegal and legal immigration.
Social and religious conservatives, who often are concentrated in the US South, Midwest, and rural areas, are fearful of national mega-trends. These citizens tend to be more traditional, white, less educated, and are concerned about both job threats as well as loss of status. In essence, the "real America" they grew up with seems threatened. Coupled with traditional Republican priorities of low taxes and less regulations, this coalition pushed Mr. Trump to a win in the Electoral College, even though the nationwide popular vote favored Ms. Clinton by over three million votes.
Underlying these shifts are cultural and religious beliefs that are hard to articulate in a public platform. So-called "dog whistle" comments are used to circumnavigate more direct references. Gay Rights and a move away from traditional church participation are anathema to social conservatives.
Democrats, meanwhile are evolving into a party characterized by higher education levels and more upwardly mobile Americans who concentrate now on both coasts and in urban areas where the information technology and new service industry jobs are booming. These are portions of the US where more than two-thirds of the country's Gross Domestic Product now is produced. The suburban white women, minority groups (both racial and immigrant), and younger people - Millennials - tend to be younger, more secular and favor free-trade and pro-immigration positions. These last two policies, once the backbone of moderate, mainstream Republicans, are no longer as the Party has shifted to the right.
Climate change is underway, with rapid polar ice melts and the resulting associated ocean current changes as fresh water pours off the Greenland glaciers into the North Atlantic. This produces different temperature and rain patterns, along with rising sea levels. Ironically, Northern Europe could become much colder without the warming waters of the Gulf Stream circulation, now becoming blocked by the vast inflows from the Greenland glacier melt. Environmental laws designed to help are seen as threats to jobs and income by many Republicans. On the other hand, these under-gird positions of Democrats who see them as existential threats to our very continuation as a planet of stable nation states. Implications for mass population movements world wide are significant over the next decades, including extensive damage and disruption for numerous large coastal cities around the world. Virtually nothing is more likely to trigger international unrest, including wars, than mass population shifts.
The prize achievement of the new administration to date, along with the successful confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, has been the Tax Reform (Cut) Bill, a huge boon to both corporations as well as upper-income earners and wealthy Americans. Many companies are putting the extra after-tax money to use buying back stock, which both increases the price of the (now lower number of) shares in the market and is a nice source of cash for the investors in those companies, in addition to paying higher dividends to share holders. In both cases, this is additional money, a lot of additional money, to those who had invested in the corporations. Most of the population will see virtually nothing material or meaningful in paychecks, especially with higher gasoline prices, however the stimulus of additional jobs and extra money in the economy could be a powerful effect.
One positive element of the law was the one-time surcharge of fifteen percent on profits brought back into the US from foreign operations. The longer range benefits to the economy will depend on the companies' willingness to buy new capital equipment and facilities to expand jobs and make their corporations more competitive. The jury is still out on that, although durable equipment orders are up. In many cases, however, this capital equipment not only increases capacity, but also efficiency, with automation resulting in fewer jobs.
To some extent, this is like a sugar high. It won't last. For sure, the national debt will increase sharply (by 1.5 thousand Billion, or $1.5 Trillion) over a decade because there is nothing in the bill to offset the sharp decrease in tax revenue. Most high-profile debt hawks in the Republican Party have gone silent on this aspect of the law, other than general references to eliminating "waste" - usually meaningless in general - plus some genetic talk that the economic stimulus will boost the economy such that the growth somehow will pay for some of this shortfall. Some nascent talk about cut backs in Medicare and Medicaid will be interesting. In other words, is the plan to decrease taxes for short and medium term stimulus, and then cut back the two most important (and costly) social services for poor and older Americans, programs that many Trump voters rely on, to pay for it?
At the end of the day, consider these two factors:
- Only 19% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 now have a positive view of the Republican Party.
- Older and rural Americans, primarily white men in smaller towns and more rural states with older manufacturing and mineral extraction industries, elected this administration based on the rules of the Electoral College
In this Age of Trump, it would appear that the GOP is steering into head winds that will only intensify with demographic changes. But Mr. Trump remains defiant and even bolder as he surrounds himself with people who share his beliefs. The Mueller investigation, along with personal and financial scandals surrounding the President, continue. With an understaffed State Department, dangerous tensions related to the Middle East, North Korea, and international trade friction continue. These are precarious times. Unexpected results on nearly any front may happen at any time.
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