History may not repeat itself, but it could perhaps return in the form of old rhymes and reasons. Back in 1967 Stephen Stills and Neil Young had a folk-rock group called Buffalo Springfield. They released a protest song entitled “For What It’s Worth.” Listen carefully to the lyrics. They are as resonant and relevant issues and events of today as they were in the late 60’s.
What is Happening in American Politics?
Both Republican and Democratic Party establishment and elites are being challenged as entitled, corrupt and self-serving. They are not seen as being serving the public interest. This is especially true of perspectives held by the misanthropic but steadfast supporters of the outsider Presidential candidacies of Trump and Sanders.
The traditional institutional underpinnings of both partisan power elites and establishment Influentials have been ineffective in grasping root causes for the backlash nor do they seem to know how to respond it it.
The Democrats have made moves towards accommodating the values behind the Sanders protest movement. Sanders persisted successfully ensuring progressive polices are in the Democratic campaign platform. It is what Sanders calls “the most progressive Democratic Presidential Campaign Platform ever.”
In exchanged for a keynote prime-time convention slot, Sanders endorsed Clinton. He was clearly more motivated out of fear of a Trump victory than any genuine feelings of fealty to the Democratic Party or it’s Presidential Nominee.
Cruz, on the other hand, used his prime-time convention concession speech and did nothing to heal the internal Republican Party wounds. He intentionally ignored appealing to the Trump radicals or establishment reactionaries. And he did not endorse Trump as the Republican Nominee. Ouch!
Speaking of Angst and Anger; Aggressive Politics Are Now Normative!
Americans are seriously and demonstratively divided. The fault lines run through everything from income gaps, to gender gaps, education gaps, regional and faith difference, just to name a few. Of course there are always racial concerns but that is now made even more complicated by overlapping issues around ethnicity and fear of the domestic and foreign “Other.”
There are deep divisions within the American political parties. Polls also consistently show most Americans dislike and distrust both Nominees. Consequently the pending Presidential, Senate and House elections are totally uncertain.
The rise of Libertarian and Green “third parties” increases uncertainty about who will win and why. These alternative are becoming more attractive for disgruntled Democrats and Republicans plus disgusted moderate Independents. Will they undermine the major candidates and have an impact the results? Time will tell!
Alberta is also in the midst of political change and turmoil, somewhat similar to the States. So far the Alberta political culture clash is less acerbic and the Westminster governance system prevents American style legislative gridlock, at least provincially.
Albertans recently, dramatically, democratically and surprisingly, elected a social-democratic majority government. Albertans of all stripes were fed up with the status quo. They dramatically rejected what they saw as the embedded, elitist and entitled Progressive Conservative-Corporatist collusive political culture.
That said, we also have the Wild Rose Party. That is as right wing, socially conservative and fiscally reactionary, as any group of American Republican partisans. They would also probably find a Trump-like approach to political leadership in Alberta as very appealing.
Perhaps Jason Kenney’s descent into provincial politics will show them the way to those ends. He was an uber-acolyte of Stephen Harper, the “Republicanesque” former Conservative Prime Minister. Will Mr. Kenney become the champion of this “Trumpesque” segment of Alberta-based political activism? Again, time will tell.
His campaign to unite current conservative parties must start with him winning the leadership of the moribund Progress Conservatives. He plans to dissolve that party as leader and then move to undermine the viability of the Wild Rose Party. Then Kenney says he will start a totally new Conservative Party of Alberta out of the remains to “Unite the Right.”
He can then be the political Phoenix to fabricate a new fiscally austere, socially regressive and environmentally indifferent political movement to put political power in the control of the Wild Rose Party base.
Antiquated Attitudes and Emerging Alternative Institutions
We are seeing a hardening of Left versus Right politics in the States. The same thing is happening in Alberta as the “Unite the Right” initiative campaign is mostly about defeating the leftist NDP government.
This dichotomous partitioning of politics gives the general population the wrong impression there are only two competing dogmas. The contest is framed as between the Left and the Right, pejoratively called Socialists and Capitalists by the competing factions.
The Left is more focused on adaptive social change in service of the greater good through collective approaches. The opposite is the Right which is more focused on status quo protections of individual private property rights and market-based economic approaches.
What the “Them versus Us” proponents of politics ignore are the Other. These are communities of interests who pursue common social needs and take on ecological responsibilities while pursuing progress through genuine wealth creation.
The old paradigm of Left or Right, Capitalist or Communist, Private or Public Sector divisional dynamics are passe to the progressive Others. They see these simplistic perspectives as ineffective. In fact they are perceived as dangerous in dealing with the complex reality of a networked world of globalized economics, shared ecological responsibility and inclusive social relationships.
There are communitarian groups of individuals forming outside the traditional partisan political structures. They are seeking to integrate and balance the best of pubic and private sectors within a whole-systems approach to achieve a progressive political culture. Henry Mintzberg identifies this as the “Plural Sector” approach in his recent book “Rebalancing Society.” This is a good read that I highly recommend.
This Internet enabled movement of communities of common interests initially emerged amongst influential environmentalists. That is well documented in Paul Hawken’s book “Blessed Unrest.” That is also a good read that I recommend. This movement has since expanded into realms of global economics, international stewardship and mutual well-being that crosses national borders and supersedes the parochial partisan political ideologies of the past.
What Goes Around Comes Around
I am a front-end Baby Boomer and a product of the 60’s and 70’s. As I reflect on my youth I see today that we are once again in the midst of a massive change and a political evolution. Then as now, this is also based on outsider’s rejection of authority and its legitimacy.
This is animated today by a revulsion of the abuse of power by politicians, the disdain for democracy by partisan establishments and policy manipulation by monied elites and self-serving Influentials. All very familiar themes to me coming back from the 60’s.
Yes “Something’s Happening Here.” But to my mind it is very clear. The old order is once again in chaos. It is being over thrown by a new consciousness that questions the legitimization of people in authority. It is demanding a reset and a rethink of the processes and purpose of our democracy in a much more complex world.
This emerging movement for progressive change is ironically captured (at least ironic to me) by the 1964 lyrics of Dylan’s “The Times They Are Changin'”. Here is an excerpt of those lyrics. It will give you a sense of what is happening now is also something that fomented before and is seemingly coming around again. Read and reflect.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
Bob Dylan, written in 1964
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