Stand by for political realignment in America!

Summary:  I’ve long believed that our political system has rapidly accumulating strains, soon to rip the system apart so that new coalitions emerge, centered on new issues — political realignments (see Wikipedia), as has happened before in American history. Not the widely anticipated move to the “middle” (a two-dimensional line), but political reshuffling in multiple dimensions.

Perhaps we now have the first signs of it happening. On the other hand, just as the first Robin doesn’t mean Spring has begun, rising stress does not mean the realignment has begun.

American Extremists

On the Right

The Right, and especially its vanguard — the Tea Party movement — have become servants of the 1%. They’re helping the 1% build the New America described in scores of posts on the FM website. They are one possible future for America.

  1. A belligerent foreign policy, supporting a mad unprofitable empire.
  2. Political divisions between hostile races and religions.
  3. Growing inequality and falling social mobility (e.g., defunding public schools and universities).
  4. Tax burden shifted, as the GOP is doing in the States, from the rich to the middle class.

It’s a common pattern in history. It’s a change from the America-that-once-was. It’s a slow-motion revolution. It might push some into defecting from the Right to a new movement closer to their conservative principles.

Looking to the future, neither the GOP nor its Tea Party faction are all grey-hairs. As shown by this Pew Poll, published 16 October 2013. The Republicans are slightly light on Millennials (born after 1980, so age 18 – 33) and slightly heavy on Boomers. The Tea Party movement is catastrophically light on Millennials and over-weight on Boomers. The cutting edge of society in terms of youth and energy is not with the extreme Right.

Pew Poll of Tea Party Movement
Pew Poll, 16 October 2013

On the Left

There is no equivalent of the Tea Party on the Left. After decades of decay, the Left’s too decrepit to have a broadly political movement; all that remains are single-issue groups. Like the unions and the environmentalists. With an aging membership, and a slow loss of public support.

From an article by Paul Voosen in E&E Publishing, 13 April 2012 (unrelated to this post, which I highly recommend):

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How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America

Summary:  After the long journey to create modern representative democracies, we might have forgotten how our political machinery works. The basic workings of the engine, not the operation of the buttons on the dashboard. Worse, many of us have adopted superstitions about the engine. All this makes difficult the deep reforms necessary for the 21st century. Here we sketch out one aspect of the problem, and speculate about a viable path forward. Discussing reform is a first step to taking reforms.

The condition of Man … is a condition of war of every one against every one. … … To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

… [In this war there are] no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

— Thomas Hobbs explains why we need a State, from Leviathan (1651)

Modern philosophers

  1. The power of forgetting & imagination
  2. Talking with empowered true believers
  3. Yes, it can happen here
  4. For More Information
  5. A map showing how we got here

(1)  The power of forgetting & imagination

“Their citizens glorified their mythology of rights and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”
— Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959)

Centuries of intellectual work by enlightenment philosophers, including Hobbs, Locke and Hume, resulted in the creation of modern republican democracies. Centuries of evolution — hard won through trial and error — produced working systems that have survived wars, depressions, and massive social changes.  Now another wave of reforms is needed to face the challenges of the 21st century.

One of the oddities about politics in 21st America is the role of imagining and forgetting. The Tea Party movement is, in this as in so many things, the extreme case, with decades of indoctrination giving them imaginary history and economics (amply documented in these posts).

Libertarians are also interesting (the 2 groups overlap). Hobbs and Enlightenment philosophers would consider naive their ideas about the nature of individuals and society. Libertarians ask what the State owes individuals, unaware that civilization begins when individuals band together to make a State — that the things libertarians value, such as freedom and property, exist only only after the creation of a State — that each generation must recreate the State — and that States often fail, with horrific consequences.

These are important insights today, when Americans know what the State owes them. “I know my rights” is our mantra. But our obligations to the State remain less clear to us, becoming less so with each generation. The growth of libertarian thinking is symptomatic of this. It’s an easy path to national decline, and a starting point for discussions about reforms.

(2)  Discussions in a world with empowered true believers

“Stability is in unity.”
— Mencius (372 – 292 BC), Chinese philosopher, follower of Confucius

Discussions of this problem and possible solutions are clogged by true believers from the Tea Party and libertarian movements. The first are misinformed; the second idealistic. Members of both often unreachable with fact or logic (proven by long experience here and elsewhere). These groups pose operational challenges on all levels to reformers, from internet comments to national elections.

Looking at the larger issue first — my guess (emphasis on guess) is that they are in general impossible to enroll in any reform coalition (which I suspect will cross existing party lines).

Looking at the other extreme — politics on a microscopic scale — their participation in comment threads are equally problematic. Internet discussions tend to self-sort into forums with people of similar views — so that people pleasantly re-enforce each other’s opinions (the FM website breaks this rule, one reason for its often acrimonious comment threads). On more content-focused sites (i.e., not discussion forums), the trend seems to be toward having no comments, or comments only with heavy moderation (e.g., commends posted only after approval). For details see this post, with quotes from websites grappling with management of their comment sections.

There are no easy solutions, unfortunately — only trade-offs.

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Occupy & Tea Party are alike, both saving America through cosplay

Summary: Collective action is democracy in action, unrestrained by the machinery of the formal political parties. Does the surge in political action of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party Movement represent a new morning for America, appropriate at the start of a new millennium. Or are these peasants’ protests, venting steam while the 1% build a New America?

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
— Not every movement is a revolution, although you often do time in jail.

Captain America visits the Tea Party
Cosplay as political activism: too much fun?


  1. The Surge of Activism
  2. What we are. What we need to be.
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information
  5. The Boston Tea Party was not cosplay


(1) The Surge of Activism

As a result of our increasing affluence and leisure time, plus more retirees, America has more activists than at most times in our history. Americans dedicated to making things better, often taking to the streets.

Some address tangible, local problems. Service clubs: saving stray animals, helping youth, cleaning up parks, organizing unions, etc. Some work to save the nation, like the Tea Party Movement and Occupy Wall Street. Those of the first type are serious, shown not just by the time and money they devote to their projects — but to their results.

What about the second type? It’s a difficult question to answer. How do we measure seriousness of people in political groups, outside the organized political parties? Especially those formed to transform the nation, rather than the limited political platform of established parties?

We can only guess at such things, but we can compare movements like Occupy and the Tea Party with past organizations. Consider the Revolutionary-era Committees of Correspondence, the abolitionist movement, building unions, the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam anti-war campaigns. What common elements that distinguish these very different groups, making them effective? Perhaps their…

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The Million Vet March, a typical peasants’ protest. Does it portend more serious protests in our future?

Summary:  The Million Vet March is typical citizen activism in America, much like the Occupy movement’s street parties. Naive, weak leadership. Poorly conceived goals (the GOP, not Obama, shut down the government). Delusional thinking about the breath of their appeal (“million man”). And a lack of internal discipline (tolerance of off-point or even inappropriate messages). They are nice men and women, but rebels without a cause. Futility in motion, typical of peasants’ protests — venting frustration that if well-directed might threaten the regime.

Still, this might portend greater events in our future. These are fine political shock troops, needing only someone to give them focus and direction. Someone to forge them into a powerful political force.

MVM: rebel flag
Respecting our Vets by flying the flag of those that killed 365,000 US soldiers
By John Aaravois @aravois

Obama must go!
Shut down the White House!
Slogans chanted at the Million Vet March


  1. ABC describes the event
  2. Typical Tea Party false packaging
  3. CNN describes the event
  4. Good advice from long ago
  5. An honest statement of their naivete
  6. They don’t care about the real outrage
  7. For More Information

(1) ABC describes the event

Thousands Protest Closures During ‘Million Vet March’“, ABC News, 13 October 2013:

Thousands of protesters descended on Washington D.C. today to protest the closure of national war memorials as a result of the government shutdown. The protesters broke through barricades at the World War II memorial today as part of the “Million Vet March.” The memorial has been closed since Oct. 1, when the shutdown began. … As they took apart barricades protesters chanted “Tear down these walls,” in addition to singing patriotic songs such as “God Bless America.”

… A few high profile political figures also appeared at the rally including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and GOP vice presidential candidate. “Let me ask a simple question,” Cruz told the crowd. “Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

The march organizers, however, tried to keep partisan politics out of the protest. In a Facebook post for the protest, organizers said all elected officials — and the people who voted them into office — were to blame for the shutdown.

(2) Typical Tea Party false packaging

The event looks like the false packaging typical of the Tea Party. Mostly hard core Republicans, they claim to be Independents. They stage an event as a non-partisan protest on an unobjectionable cause (“Open the memorials”), and use it to attack the President. These tactics are necessary for an unpopular minority to get favorable attention while they shut down the government — against the wishes of a large majority of Americans.

Jim Acosta of CNN, on Twitter :”US Park Police have arrived in front of WH. Some in riot gear! Tea party/veteran protesters start booing.”

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A new political party for a New America: the Tea Party GOP

Summary: This is the fourth in this series about the new politics now emerging in America, in some ways different than anything in our long history. Here we look at the new GOP and its shock troops, the Tea Party Movement. When reading the many articles describing it as crazy, ignorant, and doomed — remember that they are the dominant force today, dragging the political spectrum to the Right (due to the length of this post, supporting material about this is in the comments).

GOP sunrise
GOP sunrise, from “Right Truth” website


  1. Introduction to our new politics
  2. The historical evolution of our new politics
  3. Our political parties are stronger than ever
  4. This crisis was planned, but not by the Tea Party
  5. Understanding the people of the New Right
  6. Other posts in this series
  7. For More Information
  8. Flashback to a prophetic note from August 2011
  9. The 2 parties agree on so many key issues

(1)  Introduction to our new politics

While the shutdown and debt crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the many crises that lie ahead. The two great lessons:

  1. Our government’s structure is exceptional because it is flawed, and so copied by few other nations. Part two discussed this.
  2. The two Tea Party and Evangelical factions of the GOP have allied, becoming a powerful force in US politics. This crisis shows that they have become a disruptive due to their alienation and unwillingness to compromise.

The first is the dynamite, the second the detonator. But the problem was inevitable, and would eventually have emerged, during this crisis or some future crisis. The Founders hated and feared “factions”, but made few provisions in the political system for their management.

Today we discuss the second factor. The US political system has matured into ideologically coherent parties, with both having an extreme that provides shock troops. It’s the logical evolution of our system, remarkable only in that it took two centuries.

The Republicans, as usual, do this much better than the Democrats. Elements in the GOP coalition have built the Tea Party movement into a powerful grassroots activist network. Surprisingly, with its powerful backers the Tea Party Movement has come to dominate the GOP, yet another of the historically commonplace instances of a tribe emerging from the margins to dominate the group.

Here are some articles that describe this new force, and how it fits into the politics of the New America now under construction.

(2)  The historical evolution of our new politics

Tea Party radicalism is misunderstood: Meet the Newest Right”, Michael Lind, Salon, 6 October 2013 — “Our sense of the force currently paralyzing the government is full of misconceptions — including what to call it.” Excerpt:

Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right. …

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Let’s learn from this inevitable crisis, which results from flaws in our system

Summary: While the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the similar crises that lie ahead. Failure to learn and respond to these might have ugly consequences during the next decade. Today we look at one of the two vital lessons. This is the second of a four part series.

Blasting caps
Just like the Tea Party Movement



  1. Introduction to our problem
  2. A brilliant but superficial analysis
  3. A deeper analysis
  4. Another forecast
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information


(1)  Introduction

While the shutdown and debt crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the many crises that lie ahead. The two great lessons:

  1. Our government’s structure is exceptional because it is flawed, and so copied by few other nations.
  2. The two Tea Party and Evangelical factions of the GOP have allied, becoming a powerful force in US politics. This crisis shows that they have become a disruptive due to their alienation and unwillingness to compromise.

Our Constitutional structure of a divided Executive and Legislature — with the Legislature further divided into two houses — allows potentially destabilizing political gridlock. The somewhat non-ideological basis of American parties for most of our history (with other strong divisions, such as regional) hid this. But now the parties have resorted themselves on more logical lines, sharpening the competition and making compromise more difficult.

Perhaps after two centuries we should worship the Founders less and strive to improve on their work. We can start by asking why most new nations adopt parliamentary systems, instead of copying ours.

The second factor is the maturation of US political system into ideologically coherent parties, with both having an extreme acting as shock troops. The Republicans, as usual, do this much better than the Democrats — building the Tea Party movement into a powerful grassroots activist network. It’s the logical evolution of our system, remarkable only in that it took two centuries.

The first is like dynamite (the subject of today’s post). Tomorrow we discuss the second, which is like a detonator. The combination can produce a ugly crisis, which the current one foreshadows. But the problem is structural. The Founders hated and feared “factions”, but made few provisions in the political system for their management. Its emergence seems inevitable during a crisis, eventually.

(2) A brilliant but superficial analysis

Shutdown’s roots lie in deeply embedded divisions in America’s politics“, Washington Post, 5 October 2013 — Excerpt:

The government shutdown did not happen by accident. It is the latest manifestation — an extreme one by any measure — of divisions long in the making and now deeply embedded in the country’s politics. At some point, presumably, the current standoff will end. The federal government will reopen, the ceiling on its borrowing power will be lifted and some stalled legislation could pass. Some sense of normalcy will return to official Washington.

But it also could be a new normal, as confrontation remains commonplace and true compromise rare. Meanwhile, the ideological, cultural and political differences that led to this moment of extreme governmental dysfunction are almost certain to shape elections and legislative battles in the near term.

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The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy

Summary: America has many people interested in reforming its politics and government. But not enough. And ever fewer as the Republic weakens, and the cost of opposing the government increases — and the risk taking the extreme measures necessary becomes severe. Every day these trends dig deeper tracks into our society. Time is our enemy.

The times they are a-changin’…
— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

Globe Clock

Content of this post

  1. Time is our enemy
  2. The evolving form of the Republic
  3. Beyond the Republic
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For More Information

(1) Time is our enemy

Ask me for anything but time.
— Aphorism attributed to Napoleon

Many posts on the FM website have spoken of the need to reform America’s political system, as the Second Republic (under the Constitution) appears to be dying. The first post in this series discussed a possible cause, the unwillingness of Americans to bear the burden of self-government (which includes working to retain control of the State). The second post looked at possible solutions. Here we examine the bad news: how much time do we have? My guess: not long.

Our weakness invites others to take the tiller of America. The nation must be governed — we must be governed — and someone else will take the controls if we find the burden of responsibility too great. It is happening right now.

The Tea Party Movement shows how easily the vital part of the American political spectrum — the Right — can be mobilized. With some seed money, lavish media support from Fox News, slack coverage from the rest of the news media — and a new political force emerged. Rank and file Republicans reforged into GOP shock troops to change their party and pull the center of US politics further to the right. The Tea Party movement was born opposing the Bush-Obama bank bailouts, then led to become supporters of pro-bank legislators. They were fanatical supporters of the Constitution, led to become its wreckers (excerpt for select detritus, such as parts of the First and Second Amendments).

Similarly, the Left was easily reforged from fanatical opponents of Bush Jr and all his policies — into the bedrock on which Obama has institutionalized the economic and national security policies of Bush Jr.

Both Left and Right were easily manipulated. I suspect that our disinterest and passivity in response to the revelations about NSA surveillance has been seen and understood. We can expect bolder, faster action in the future — taking us to a New America.

Time is our enemy.

(2) The evolving form of the Republic

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