Major Problems for the Democratic Party

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), together with Democratic Senate and House leaders, announcing their "Better Deal" at Berryville, VA on July 24, 2017.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), together with Democratic Senate and House leaders, announcing their “Better Deal” at Berryville, VA on July 24, 2017.
Screenshot from Newsy coverage.

Having taken a quick look  at the Republican Party’s seemingly insurmountable problems in my last post, we should now consider the Democratic Party’s even more destructive, long-term problems. These difficulties are made all the worse by the fact most in the Democratic elites are unwilling even to acknowledge them.

The Democratic Party’s Major Long-Term Problems

Although the GOP has its problems,  long-term the Democratic Party has difficulties that are much worse. A very large part of their quandary results from a vast cultural divide between the party’s political, economic, and academic elites and a really large fraction of the American people — perhaps even a majority. It is probably not too much of a stretch to state the party’s elites actually hate much of the American people. The Democrats’ last presidential candidate infamously remarked that most supporters of Republicans belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” To be precisely accurate, she said.

To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.

She then added many of these people were “irredeemable” and “not America.” 

Yet another Democratic Party dilemma is their policies of greater government control over the economy and society simply do not work. Or to the extent they do work, they introduce other problems that are even worse. American voters may not know just why life is getting harder for them. However, they can recognize that after eight years of an extremely progressive Democratic administration both the economy and our national security deteriorated.

Progressives’ Arguments With Reality

The progressives  who make up the bulk of the Democratic Party have a long-running argument with Reality. Ever since their origins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the heart of  the progressive movement was about the use of government power to save the common people from the abuses of corporations and capitalism. The necessity for the use of the coercive power of law to accomplish these ends was required by what they saw as the ignorance and weakness of the people themselves.

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson’s administration in 1913, the progressive movement grew a more sinister, authoritarian side, with the proliferation of independent government agencies and increasing federal powers over the economy. Wilson started the authoritarian trend to weaken the boundaries between the three separate branches of government, and to centralize legislative, judicial, and executive powers in either executive departments or in the independent agencies. To be sure, the grant of these melded powers, given by congressional legislation, was limited in scope in each institution to the purposes of those institutions. Nevertheless, even in the limited scope of these executive branch organizations, combining all three governmental powers in a single agency is a recipe for tyranny. In fact, James Madison in the 46th Federalist Paper noted

“The accumulation of all power, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

It is as if progressives have developed an historical amnesia, forgetting everything the Age of Enlightenment ever taught us about social contracts, separation of powers, checks and balances, and individual freedoms. The Baron de Montesquieu would be deeply disappointed in them.

To believe government had the capability to regulate society in detail, progressives had to believe social reality was very different from the way it actually is. By now, a great many people either understand or are beginning to realize that human networking systems, of which the economy is the most important, are chaotic systems. Chaotic systems are defined by the attribute that extremely small, almost imperceptible perturbations on the system would soon cause huge changes in system behavior. If human systems, particularly the economy, are chaotic, then perturbations on them introduced by coercive government regulations and law will quickly unsettle any balances previously established and create unexpected instabilities. This is an aspect of Reality progressives seem totally incapable of understanding. If they understood it, they would no longer remain progressives with a faith in the state’s capability to do unlimited good.

The heart of the matter lies in the fact that human networking systems, e.g. the economy, have a huge number of degrees of freedom with negligible constraints. If one ignores constraints (each constraint reduces the number of degrees of freedom by one), the degrees of freedom of the economy are the prices and quantities of goods for all goods in the economy. In any modern economy that is a truly humongous number. The interacting system components are the suppliers and consumers of those goods. The other attribute making an economy chaotic is that the interactions between the system components are “local” in the sense that pairs of suppliers and consumers tend to interact primarily with each other, with limited interaction with other system components.

In terms of the economy, this means the interaction between suppliers and consumers of goods is much stronger and more determinative of what gets traded than the influence of government regulations. No matter what government says, if people do not want to buy a good, it will not be bought! If government increases its unwanted supply, expensive surpluses of those goods will be created, which will have to be warehoused having absorbed scarce economic resources in their production. If government discourages the production of goods that are greatly desired by consumers, then shortages of desired goods will decrease overall economic demand.

If what I just wrote is true, then there is a very close mathematical analogy between chaotic social systems and fluid N-body systems in physics, which are chaotic for the very same reasons. What progressives would have us believe is they can create enough constraints through government regulations they can transform the fluid N-body system to that of a solid state body. With a  physical solid state body, long-range electromagnetic forces freeze constituent molecules into a lattice formation. This means the originally humongous number of degrees of freedom in the physical fluid system are reduced by constraints to just nine: the three components each of the center-of-mass, the velocity of the center-of-mass, and the total angular momentum of the system. If progressives can accomplish the same thing for social systems through the constraints of government regulations, then they would no longer have to worry about chaotic behavior of society. Of course, we would also then live in a very rigid dictatorship, with the government dictating everything we do.

Yet the evidence of history screams out this is an impossible task for any government, no matter how authoritarian or dictatorial. This is a view that is strongly supported by history, whether it is the history of what caused the Great Depression of the 1930s and what caused it to last so long, the history of what actually caused the Great Recession of 2008-2009, or the history of why the Soviet Union collapsed, and why developing countries do not grow strongly until they move toward greater economic freedom.

This is an argument with Reality progressives of the Democratic Party can not possibly win. The in-built complexity of human society is not globally controllable by the coercive power of law. If progressives push in hard on society in one place, the human actors making up the social system “fluid” will bulge out unpredictably elsewhere, generally making the over-all situation even worse.

It is quite conceivable, given the limitations and dysfunctions of the Republican Party, that Democrats could win back control of the federal government in a future election. However, should that happen, the Democrats’ mistaken assumptions about Reality will lead to the same kinds of disasters as we experienced during the Obama administration. Their hold on power would then be very predictably brief.

Increasing Alienation of the People From the Democratic Party

Beyond the incompatibility of their basic beliefs with actual reality,  the elites controlling the Democratic Party have ignored the sensibilities and fears of many in their long-time political base. The result has been an increasing alienation of the party from the electorate that cost the Democratic Party the last presidential election, as well as a very large number of simultaneous state elections. That alienation is particularly strong within a former bedrock of the Democratic base: Blue collar workers and their families.

Ted Van Dyk, a Democratic activist for more than a half-century in both Democratic administrations and campaigns, writes in the Wall Street Journal he believes the source of this alienation to be more cultural than economic. The fundamental source in his view is a progressive intellectual arrogance and detestation of most Americans in the “fly-over country” between the West and East coasts. He cites three statements by prominent Democrats in recent years as revealing this arrogance. The first was a remark by Barack Obama in his 2008 campaign in which he declared that small-town Americans “cling to guns and religion.” The second statement was by Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, after Obama’s 2008 election when she said “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.” The third revelatory statement was Hillary Clinton’s infamous declaration that most Trump supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” Concerning these statements, Van Dyk writes,

None of these statements had anything to do with national security or economics. They revealed a mind-set that many voters find offensive—a huge cultural chasm that cannot be bridged by offering voters economic goodies.

Continuing this observation, Van Dyk notes current Democratic leaders

. . . have continued to focus on cultural issues with limited appeal. Their focus on political correctness and conformity has left an impression on traditional Democrats that their party leaders care more about transgender bathroom access than employment, the cost of living, education or public safety. Mrs. Clinton’s “deplorables” reference struck home with these voters.

Progressive intellectual arrogance has increased over the decades as their dominance over American intellectual institutions — public schools, colleges and universities, and most of the major news media — has grown. They have begun to believe that only they occupy and control the intellectual high ground; all others must be ignorant fools, incapable of serious thought. This dangerous mindset is the explanation for their extreme reactions to their losses in the 2016 election. It is the explanation for their “total resistance” to the Republican agenda, and for their frantic attempts to find a way to impeach Trump and remove him from office.

None of this obvious intellectual and cultural arrogance can be a help to the Democratic Party in endearing them to the voters. If the voters come to believe progressives despise them as “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it,” as well as ignorant cultural boobs, voters can hardly be expected to support Democrats at the polls. This is especially true when most such accused voters know in their hearts they are innocent of those charges.

Recently, Democratic leaders decided that just opposing all Republican ideas would be insufficient in regaining voters’ affections. On July 24 in Berryville, Virginia, they announced their answer to the Republican’s “Better Way”: the Democratic “Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.” Unfortunately, especially for the Democrats, this policy statement was only a repackaging of old progressive policies that made such a mess during Obama’s eight years, and which were rejected in the last election. In particular, there appears little to attract all the blue-collar voters who abandoned the Democratic Party in the last election. Trump’s roll-back of Obama-era economic regulations has done more to encourage the growth of blue-collar jobs than anything promised in the government programs of the Democrats’ “Better Deal.”

As salient as Van Dyk’s cultural explanation for voter alienation from the Democratic Party might be, one can not ignore the estrangement caused by the actual bad economic effects of dirigiste economic policies. Having just endured more than eight years of sub-par economic growth (Obama was the first president in modern memory — perhaps ever — to have not a single year with an annual average of at least 3% GDP growth

US real GDP growth from Q3 2009 to Q4 2016. The red line is a linear fit to the GDP over the last two years.

US real GDP growth from Q3 2009 to Q4 2016. The red line is a linear fit to the GDP over the last two years. Although there are individual quarters with growth approaching 5%, there was not a single year during Obama’s tenure that had an average of 3% or more.
Image Credit: St. Louis Federal Reserve District Bank/FRED

during his administration), as well as an actual decrease in real middle-class income, voters might well be wary of continuing the policies that created the secular stagnation of the economy. If the Republicans can reverse these trends through judicious pruning of economic regulations and income tax reform and cuts, the Democratic Party’s sojourn in the political wilderness could be prolonged.

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