Hoping For Realignment

Political realignments are momentous shifts in the balance of power between political parties that give one party and ideology a long- lasting dominance. According to George Packer, such realignments occur far more often in the minds of partisans than in reality. 

In the past century there have been only two realignments—one in 1932, the other in 1980. The first brought Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats to power, and liberalism dominated until the late ’60s. The second brought Ronald Reagan and the Republicans to power, and conservatism retains its grip on our political institutions, if not on electoral majorities, to this day. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” Eric Hoffer, the author of The True Believer, wrote. By the early 1970s, the New Deal coalition of urban machines and interest groups was becoming a racket, symbolized by piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of a nearly bankrupt New York City. Sure signs of degeneracy in the Reagan revolution appeared in the late 1990s, when Tom DeLay’s K Street Project erased the line between governing and big-money lobbying. The next step is dissolution, but the end of Hoffer’s life cycle can drag on for agonizing years.

Packer says that realignments occur when traditional politics are manifestly not working–when government fails to address chronic social ills. They are precipitated by the “rising activism of popular movements—industrial workers, evangelical Christians—pushed the parties toward new ideological commitments.” And while realignments come from tectonic shifts, they aren’t inevitable.

They’re subject to a combination of elements, including chance—more like a hurricane than the coming of spring. No one can know whether 2020 will bring the realignment that some people on the left expect. In the years since 2008 many things have changed, including three big ones. First is the lingering hangover of the Great Recession, with increased economic divisions, leaving Democratic voters impatient with the kind of incremental reforms that Hillary Clinton campaigned on in 2016 and hungry for more ambitious policies. A second is the coming to political age of Millennials—the most powerful generation since the Boomers, and far more left-wing than their elders. The third is Donald Trump.

Since getting elected, Trump—by being true to himself every minute of his presidency—has pushed educated women, suburban voters, and even a small percentage of his white working-class base toward the Democratic Party. His hateful rhetoric and character are making Americans—white Democrats in particular—more rather than less liberalon issues of immigration, religion, and race. Last November, nonwhite voters made upa record 28 percent of the midterm electorate, and 38 percent of young voters. At the same time, the Republican Party has built its ramparts around the diminishing ground inhabited by older, whiter, more rural, less educated Americans. These are the kind of changes that could bring a new Democratic coalition to power for years to come.

Given the accuracy of the above paragraphs, a realignment would certainly seem possible, even highly probable. So why does Hacker tell us not to get our hopes up?

There are still a lot of people living back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the red fields of the republic roll on under the night. Since progressives, especially younger ones, and especially the hyperpoliticized partisans on Twitter, rarely talk to people who don’t think like them, they stop believing that such people still exist, at least not in meaningful numbers—sooner or later they’ll have to die out. And yet, year after year, those nearly extinct Americans keep showing up to vote, and often win.

The ability to usher in lasting change–or even short-term change–ultimately depends upon political leadership. Hacker reminds us that leadership isn’t synonymous with ideology or policy.

Campaigns tell stories, and in politics as in literature, style matters as much as plot. Roosevelt and Reagan, ideological opposites, both won by speaking in a way that gave Americans a sense of dignity and belonging and made them hopeful. They didn’t win by haranguing the public. They didn’t win by implying that anyone who disagreed must be either stupid or venal. They didn’t assemble majorities by degrading Americans into identity blocs. They didn’t force their party to pledge allegiance to the most extreme positions, or turn politics into a joyless exercise in orthodoxy. They hammered their opponents, but they did it with a smile.

In other words, the message is important–but the messenger is even more important. I hope the primary electorate understands that.


  1. FDR and the “New Deal” brought progress to this country in the form of jobs rebuilding and expanding the infrastructure while providing middle Americans with livable incomes, beginning that era’s economic growth. Reagan began the age of lobbyists as a full-time, well paid job and using the wealthy to their political advantage while digging into the pockets of middle Americans. Much of the Republican’s “conservative progress” has brought about the destruction of the environment causing Global Warming and offsetting the alignment of natural Climate Change. Republicans believe they can repair the hole in the roof by tearing out another section of that roof to use for repairs.

    “The ability to usher in lasting change–or even short-term change–ultimately depends upon political leadership.”

    Political leadership is not found in the amount of wealth listed on bank statements but there is a new Golden Rule in control. “He who has the gold, rules.” And what Republicans consider to be progress does not mean improvement which is why we are must find realignment to retain democracy, Rule of Law and return to the Constitution of the United States for guidance.

  2. I recognize that in my young adult years not only did I not have the time to understand and be aware of politics, but back then I did not have access to the information to be able to do so. Even now, with all of the information available on tv and the internet, it takes a massive amount of energy just to work full time and raise children.

    How do young parents find any time to be active politically or at the very least to take the time to read and truly understand what is going on? If I had to make a bet on how people vote I would bet that most younger adults still vote for the candidates of the party that their parents voted for. They just don’t have the time to learn anything else from any other source.

    Maybe trump’s audacious idiocy has caught the attention of the younger generations enough to make them think that they need to pay attention to what has been and is going on and to get involved in voting for candidates who actually care about their futures and the future of this country, rather than the future of the uber wealthy and the corporations.

  3. What it all comes down to is, who votes, and who doesn’t. I know I sound like a broken record and I also know I’m preaching to the choir here, since those who read this blog will, no doubt, vote. I don’t only preach that here. I preach it wherever I find an audience, especially an audience of young people. Please go forth and talk about the importance of voting to your families, your friends, your children, and their children.

  4. This is very much in keeping with what Mayor Pete was saying about not just winning an election, but winning an era.

    I also see this in Pete’s campaign style. He has gotten a lot of comments about not having bullet points of policy – like Elizabeth Warren. What I see is that people like Pete as the messenger – where they aren’t as taken with Elizabeth Warren – for example — if poll numbers are a reasonable indicator at this stage. Rather than a policy page that you can “shop”, Pete has you watching videos of him speak – which showcases the messenger.

    I am somewhat disheartened by comments on various sites regarding details of policy proposals… along the lines of, “I’m not going to vote for anyone who doesn’t say they are going to do ____ or ____.” As Sheila mentioned in a previous post, it’s unlikely that we will agree with any candidate on all of their policy positions – and as I said earlier, many of these policies aren’t going anywhere without a magically reconstituted House and Senate.

    Rather than minutiae of policy proposals, it may be better to ask who would be best to lead us into a different realignment.

  5. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” Eric Hoffer, the author of The True Believer, wrote.” I never thought the Reagan presidency represented anything except a vehicle for Wall Street greed in the person of Donald Regan. They helped create Newt Gingrich and his moronic ideas.

    Howard Dean introduced the 50-state strategy when he was DNC chairman. He got it right. Since then, the DNC has floundered – except for Obama’s grass-roots, 50-state strategy – in the sea of polls, pollsters and the lack of campaign imagination. Finally, as George Will so eloquently stated: “The Democrats nominated the only bi-ped on Earth who could lose to Donald Trump.” Maybe it WAS Hillary’s “turn”, but the people wanted Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee. “Superdelegates”? Really? What are those other than a sneaky way to get someone nominated that the hierarchy wanted. The DNC failed to listen to their own constituents, so it’s hard to imagine that they would listen to those in “fly-over” country.

    Bernie Sanders would have defeated Donald Trump by 20 % points or more, so polls have said.

  6. Yesterday I received questionnaires from the Democrats and the Republicans, each ostensibly designed to gauge my interest in certain issues. They were remarkably similar and each closed with the request for a donation. It looked like business as usual for both parties.

  7. “In the past century there have been only two realignments—one in 1932, the other in 1980.”

    Let’s get real. We elected a FASCIST. We need to ALSO look at the Germany of the 20’s and 30’s in order to better understand what an effective realignment might have to look like NOW in America.

  8. I have recommended a Democrat strategy for now of paying attention to the 20 contenders as they campaign. Some will rise in popularity and some will fall as their campaign strategies unfold, each slightly at least, different. That’s exactly the purpose of the primary, to see who best has what it takes to get elected.

    At the moment I, at least, can’t guess how that will shake out. I personally prefer some candidates over others but that doesn’t matter much, it’s who we prefer that counts.

    What I know is however it shakes out I’m fully on board because I know that any Republican alternative in 2020, presumably Trump, will be an infinitely worse choice. Yes that makes me a Democrat liberal extremist for the second election in my life.

    Is there any other choice?

  9. Pete,

    “Is there any other choice?”

    How about PEACEFUL RESISTANCE. Are you 100% sure there’s going to be an election? I’m not. Are we going to make the same mistake the Germans did, when they elected Adolph Hitler and, UNFORTUNATELY, found out there wasn’t going to be another election?

  10. The trend is clear. Demographics don’t lie. Democrats would already have marginal to super majorities in some states now run by Republicans but for gerrymandering and voter suppression by minority Republicans whose numbers are shrinking by the day. Yes, big shifts in government did occur with FDR and Reagan, and I would argue that (other than a continuation of make the rich richer and the poor poorer view) Trump has ushered in a third shift, a plainly more dictatorial treatment in the exercise of executive power, libertarian non-regulation and tax cuts of and for the greedy, and the use of prevarication and alternative realities to achieve “deconstruction of the administrative state,” aka ending our democracy, or what is left of it.

    Thus FDR inherited Hoover’s laissez faire treatment of an economic disaster, Reagan manufactured a crisis in order to reduce taxes on the rich and regulation of Wall Street, and I need not recite what Trump has done, is doing, and will do unless we put a stop to his outrageous antics. I think that our political task is to organize our troops for the coming election and work hard to see to it that we have turnout, turnout and more turnout. There are many more of us than there are of them, so when all the shouting and tumult is over, it comes down to arithmetic. So it’s off to work we go.

  11. Vernon @ 9:04 am, I agree with your comments.

    The message and the messenger are not mutually exclusive. Among presidents Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Obama and President Agent Orange all have both, the message and the messenger. All of these Presidents had charisma, they also had a message.

    The problem is sometimes the messenger is so obscure in the details, you are left to fill in the blanks about the details.

    This idea that all you need is a messenger is fallacious.

    “Hope” is a nice to have and you can repeat it over and over again. You can put the word “Hope” in bright lights on the the top of a pyramid. However, you have to have a foundation, a superstructure, and reinforced concrete as a base. Without a base, and in political terms – a well defined policy, you have a rationally impossible object like an etching or drawing by M. C. Escher. The problem is some people cannot discern the difference between a word or phrase and the reality of – How are you going to accomplish it????

  12. Gerald,

    When it comes to fascism, you must move pre-emptively. If not, as we are now observing, the rhetoric of democracy will be found to be utterly useless.

  13. Marv, I do assume that there will be a 2020 election. I also assume that for that election China and North Korea will join with Putin in interfering with the election process in order to maintain Trump who has elevated their global images to beneficial new highs.

    In 2016 Putin had to influence only a very few voters in a very few states to get the outcome that he needed. I assume that 2020 will not be that close a race.

    There is “peaceful resistance” underway now that will crescendo through this year as Presidential election fever plays its usual role.

    Parties and their successful candidates have always asked themselves what do I have to do to get re-elected and what can I do to give my party more power after the next election. That will continue.

    Democrats have to rebalance the issues of idealism and retail politics. I believe that thanks to Trump support for liberal ideology is growing and thanks to 2016 Democrats will focus heavily on retail politics instead of the presumption of winning in 2016.

    I’m hopeful and that’s a powerful liberal motivator.

  14. Marv – There are signs of preemption coming to the fore, e.g., workers in the West Wing who are not carrying out der fuehrer’s orders, states that require candidates to show their tax returns or be excluded from the ballot etc., so while I am concerned I am not panicking just yet. I agree with the idea of preemption but would use it in proportion to each new atrocity committed by the current lunatic in the Oval Office, all with a view toward maintaining a relative status quo until the fall of 2020, and as to timing for the use of preemption tactics I think the Mueller report has stirred up a new undercurrent of anger towards Trump that will have blunted his drive for dictatorship and am guessing that a relative status quo will last till then. If not, we can always hit the streets.

  15. “There are still a lot of people living back in that vast obscurity beyond the city…”

    It is only obscure if your eyes are closed. I have often commented that these fellow Americans face profound problems, not found in cities.

    “The View From Flyover Country” by Sarah Kendzior would be a start for curious and less dismissive minds.

  16. I have been obsessed by the role political cycles since watching the Tea Party protest President Obama in 2010 and feeling like it was 1968 all over again. There are numerous scholars, in addition to Packer. The most prominent ones being Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. and Jr. who think the cycle is closer to 20 years. I tend to think it’s closer to 40 or 50 years.

    My hypothesis is that all the various theories have validity and can be reconciled. It’s just a matter of how the various scholars define the beginning and end of an era or a realignment.

    Yes, today it matters who Democrats choose as their standard bearer, in 2020, but it is obvious that based on ideology, Republicans have lost the majority of Americans in 2008. It’s just a matter of how long Republicans can hold on by rigging the system with gerrymandering, voter suppression, refusing to consider Supreme Court nominees, doing away with legislative norms like “blue slips” from the Senators for court nominees, etc. To determine which Party is losing just watch and listen. Who is cheating? Who is screaming?

  17. Hey Indianapolis!

    Where are the protests against the NRA which is meeting right now in your city with 15,000 members in attendance?

  18. Eric Hoffer also said, “Those in possession of absolute power can not only prophesy and make their prophecies come true, but they can also lie and make their lies come true.” The political realignment Trump has in mind involves halting the withering away of the Republican Party by declaring himself the forever president. Who is to say, given his lackeys in the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate and his millions of heavily armed true believers, that this can’t happen? No one – not even Mitch McConnell or Rand Paul – yearns for this outcome more than Vladimir Putin.

  19. Terry,

    It surely can happen, especially when the opposition response, amounts to no more than a pile of BULLSHIT.

    See “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt (Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2005)

  20. From ON BULLShIT:

    “The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “antirealist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of CORRECTNESS to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by an alternative ideal of SINCERITY. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual [or organization] turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify with himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

    But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them.
    Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solId and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial—notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case sincerIty itself is BULLSHIT.” pp. 64-7

    Harry G. Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher, was Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University.

  21. Jeremy Corbyn has declined an invitation to attend a state dinner with Donald Trump when the US president visits the UK in June.

    Trump has accepted an invitation to a long-delayed state visit, including a formal white-tie dinner hosted by the Queen.

    In a statement, the Labour leader said he disagreed with the prime minister’s decision to offer a formal visit to the US leader and confirmed he would not attend any state dinner.

    “Theresa May should not be rolling out the red carpet for a state visit to honor a president who rips up vital international treaties, backs climate change denial and uses racist and misogynist rhetoric,” said Corbyn.

    “Maintaining an important relationship with the United States does not require the pomp and ceremony of a state visit. It is disappointing that the prime minister has again opted to kowtow to this US administration.”

    His statement follows similar refusals from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/26/jeremy-corbyn-refuses-to-attend-state-banquet-for-donald-trump

Comments are closed.