Political Labels & Demographic Trends

This post will repeat a bit of some thoughts I’ve written about recently. I’m trying to formulate my thinking, but I’m not entirely clear. I see a shift in trends and I think generations is particularly significant. Some recent related posts:

The New Conservatism: GenX & Millennials
Future of Family Values

The main point in my recent thoughts is that the cultural tide is shifting and with it so is politics. With the Goldwater revolution of movement conservatism, the entire political spectrum shifted to the right. The Democratic party became centrist while the Republican party became increasingly entrenched in it’s fundamentalist base.

The culture war was a war of ideology and perception which the GOP was winning in many ways. It was true that divorce rates were up and drug use, but conservatives failed to understand the real causes. They got tough on crime and started righteously preaching morals.

How conservatives ultimately lost the war is that evidence became more clear that the Christian right wasn’t any more moral than the rest of society. Preachers were caught in money and sex scandals. The abstinence-only programs were absolute failures. Everything that Christians preached against were the worse in the most fundamentalist states (teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce… heck, even gay website membership was the highest in the Bible Belt), and the poor and needy were worse off in those same states (especially on women’s health issues leading to low birth rates and high infant mortality). Furthermore, the War On Drugs was a failure and a waste of money. The entire tough on crime attitude had led to the highest prison rates in the world and research has proven the entire legal system is racially biased.

Republicans have been in scandal after scandal, failure after failure. Finally, with Bush’s presidency, even conservatives were getting fed up. Also, various factors (such as increased immigration rates) led to a more culturally diverse society which favors a liberalism. The conservative xenophobia has become increasingly rabid and people are reminded of the Civil Rights movement when the GOP made a move for power by embracing and promoting racist hatred and fear.

The culturally diverse young generation came of age during Bush’s presidency. Some would claim it was the greatest failure in the modern history of presidents, but certainly it was a near fatal blow to the Republican party. Conservatives left the Republican party in droves, splinter groups formed, protests ensued, purity tests were demanded, and the libertarian tendencies became apparent again. Republicans had disliked libertarians more than liberals, but now the average Republican realized they had no where else to turn.

GenXers particularly have been attracted to libertarianism, but way before the Republican exodus. But this new demographic of libertarians are much more liberal and diverse than they were in the past. The progressive tendencies of Millennials and other factors are pushing the entire political spectrum to the left. The new conservatism will be centrist and moderate. The Neocons had their day in the sun, but a new era has begun. As Strauss and Howe point out, whichever party is in power when the shit hits the fan will be the party that gets sidestepped by the young generation in the Fourth Turning.

What feels conservative is that it’s a return of populism, but it’s not the populism of the right. In some ways, I think the leftwing populism is more libertarian than the rightwing version (as Chomsky would argue). If libertarianism is true conservatism, then leftwing populism is true libertarianism. Just check out history and see which group early last century was fighting both the government and the corporations.

In these times of change, labels become very confusing. The progressive Millennials show greater signs of moral behavior than do the Boomer religious right. It’s all there in the data. If valuing family and community is conservative, then Millennials are probably the most conservative demographic. However, it’s not a me and mine conservatism (my family, my community). Instead, it’s a we and ours attitude. To Millennials, there are no real and fake Americans. We’re all Americans. If patriotism is conservative, the Millennials would also seem to win on that account.

I’m not arguing about which generation is the best generation. As a GenXer, I have plenty of criticisms of Millennials. I’m just trying to understand the implictions of all this whether or not the trends match my personal opinions.

The Republican party is having an identity crisis… actually, the entire conservative movement is a bit up in the air. This is an opportunity for an entire party and maybe the rightwing movement in general to redefine itself. Whites are a shrinking demographic and so the new identity can’t focus on “white culture” Fundamentalist Christians are a shrinking demographic and so the culture wars don’t mobilize the populace. Certainly, the libertarian militia groups aren’t going to form the core of any mainstream party… but libertarianism as a general attitude might be what will reinvigorate the ideals of conservatism. There is a catch to this, though. This new libertarianism will have to be inclusive of both the right and left varieties if it’s to gain populist support.

What this means is that fundamentalism and “white culture” can no longer be the defining values of conservatism. Conservatives will have to free themselves of some of their xenophobia and become inclusive of an increasingly diverse nation. It will have to be a libertarianism that seeks to defend everyone’s rights, not just the rights of whites or fundamentalists or gun owners. The Republicans have an image problem, and it’s going to take a while to convince certain groups (blacks, gays, muslims, etc) that they’re truly welcomed as equals. The Republican party will make this shift or it will die out and a new party will replace it.

I could be wrong. I am considering all the demographic and polling data I’m familiar with and so my speculations are at least based in the facts I’ve come across. A shift is happening. Many people, both liberal and conservative, have been feeling dissatisfied with the sociopolitical status quo. The shrinking demographic of whites would like to think that the solution to the problem is to hold even tighter to the values of “white culture” The shrinking demographic of fundamentalists would like to believe the old culture wars can still be won. I think they’re wrong. We’re in the middle of this change. What we do now will influence it to an extent, but I think it’s mostly already set in whatever direction it will go.

One last thought… it doesn’t matter all that much who is right. Demographics are destiny and destiny is blind to our moral opinions. Let’s assume that “white culture” (or Western Civilization if you want to be more melodramatic) is superior to anything else ever conceived by any nation or people. Okay. Assuming that, present minorities will outnumber whites in the near future and whites will be the new majority. Those who promote this ideal of “white culture” also see it as inseparable from Christian fundamentalism. Christianity in general is shrinking in the US, and specifically fundamentalism seems to be losing power and/or seems to be in the process of being redefined. The only way white fundamentalist Christians can maintain their influence would be to take over the government and force their ideology on everyone else. That would be interesting. I’m sure they’ll try.

A lot of things are changing and I don’t think there is much anyone can do to stop it. People worry about the New World Order and I understand the criticisms, the fears. Even so, history of all civilization has been a steady increase in the size of nations and hence an increase in the size of the governments. Any given government could collapse or be destroyed, but that just creates a power vacuum where another government comes in. If the militia secessionists could overthrow our government, it wouldn’t lead to a libertarian utopia. The early Americans overthrew the British and then created another government that inevitably and quickly grew in size and power. The Civil War was fought about Federal power and States’ rights, but it just led to an even greater Federal government. The world is becoming increasingly globalized and no one is likely to stop that. Or, rather, the only thing that will stop any of this is if civilization in its entirety collapses (through plague, nuclear apocalypse, environmental collapse, etc). Otherwise, welcome to the world as it is and as it is becoming.

Going by the polls, Millennials more than any other generation seems to understand this shift. Instead of fighting it, they seem to be embracing it with open arms. I don’t know what the future will look like, but it’s going to be a Brave New World. Join in the march or let yourself be carried along… it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to get there together one way or another.

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