2016 was a year of change, and 2017 will be the year much of that change starts to set in. There are no certainties, but we can clearly see the 2017 trends in American politics forming.
Republicans Rule Now
It is a staple of the American system of government that power is fractured between various divisions and levels of government. Unlike parliamentary systems, where the party with the most seats in the legislature gets to form the entire government, the House of Representatives, Senate and Presidency are all formed independently, and power is distributed between the Federal and State governments, which all have their own branches of government.
This distinction is less significant starting in 2017, because the republicans have taken everything.
Donald Trump won the Presidency. What would be restraints on his authority are all controlled Republicans and he is riding the wave of continuous executive empowerment. Donald Trump will be the most powerful President in American history, with all the powers of Barrack Obama and none of the restrictions.
The 115th Congress will take office on January 3, 2017. Republicans will have 241 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives (55.4%) to the Democrats 194 seat (44.6%).
This means that republicans control the whole of Congress and can pass any legislation that has republican support. The only obstacle to this is the filibuster in the Senate, which makes it necessary to have 60 senators vote for cloture to end debate and start a vote on a bill or confirmation.
Even that may be a dead opportunity for democrats. When they controlled the Senate before the 2014 elections, the filibuster continually frustrated them, as it was the chief tool of what they called “obstructionism.” It only requires 50 senators to change the rules of the senate, however, so the democrats changed the rules in 2013 to end the filibuster’s application to lower level executive appointments.
This, however, sets a precedent for the republicans to do the same thing, and modify senate rules to stop democratic obstructionism of President Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview with CNN “I wish it hadn’t happened [The Change in Senate Rules].”
The Supreme Court is split between 4 conservatives and 4 liberals. A vacancy was opened on the Court when Justice Scalia died earlier this year. Donald Trump will appoint his replacement, and the Senate will be tasked with confirming or refuting this appointment. There is no guarantee that the Senate will rubber stamp his first choice but the Senate is controlled by Republicans, so the choice will definitely be a conservative. Nonetheless, there is a split amongst conservative legal scholars between Judicial Restraint and Originalists. Keep an eye out for which of these two camps Trump chooses. Trump won’t just appoint Scalia’s appointment, more Supreme Court justices will probably retire within the next four years. Professor Randy Barnett is a great source for libertarian constitutional questions.
Republicans don’t just control the Federal government, their control at the State level is even more vast.
Republicans will have total control (control both Houses of the Legislature and the Governorship) in 25 of the 50 states after the election changes take effect, up two states from before the elections. Meanwhile Democrats will only control six states, after losing the governorship in Vermont. All the other states have divided governments.
The republican wave, which started in 2010 when they took the House of Representatives, has reached a climax with the GOP controlling all the institutions of government, and relegating the Democrats to being the token opposition, criticizing the government without any power to act.
Adding up the populations of all the states in which Republicans have total control, the number is somewhere upwards of 140 million. These people, ~44% of the total population, are effectively subject to unitary republican government.
The Old Right Strikes Back
Now that the Republican party is in a position of power it hasn’t held since the end of Reconstruction, it might seem weird that Conservatism is now in retreat. However, the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the Presidency means that conservatives no longer have the control of the Republican party they have had since Reagan won the presidency in 1980.
There is a significant portion of the GOP that may support protectionism, minimum wage hikes, corporate subsidies, welfare and identity politics – things which conservatives have traditionally opposed. This branch of the GOP, which now controls the presidency (the de fact head of the GOP), can now assert itself. This doesn’t mean the Republican Party is now going to go along with everything this branch says. After all Donald Trump only got 45% of the vote in the Republican primaries and this includes votes he received after all the other candidates dropped out. But they are at least on par with the conservative establishment in the GOP, which can no longer lay claim to electability.
After a honeymoon period we can expect to see a war between conservatives and the Trump faction that broke out during the election, but which really goes back to the 1950s.
Many commentators refer to the movement that swept Trump into the Presidency as the Alt-Right, but this is a small group of relatively new ideologues who exist at the radical fringe of Trumpism. Not even Milo Yiannopolis is really a member of this group. The bulk of Trump’s support comes from a much broader group that can be defined as the Old Right, a group that has conflicted with the conservative establishment since before it even became the establishment.
Conservatism began as a movement in the 1950’s when William F Buckley Jr. started the National Review. Soon after saw the creation of the John Birch Society, which represented ideas associated with the Old Right – economic protectionism, social conservatism and isolationism. At first these two groups were amicable to each other, being anti-socialist, but differences quickly started to emerge. The John Birch Society believed, among other things, that Water-Fluoridation was a conspiracy to brainwash the public, and that President Eisenhower was a communist spy. Buckley used the National Review to expel Birchers from the conservative movement, which culminated with Barry Goldwater denouncing Bircher support in 1964. This spat has continued ever since, with nationalist-types being kicked out of National Review over the years to keep conservatism clean of it.
The Old Right is back and stronger than ever. We already got a taste of their obsession with conspiracy theories, China and protectionism in the 2016 election. And now they are set to gain real power, for the first time ever.
Social Liberalism Out, Social Democracy In
Republican domination is also going to have a major effect in the Democratic party, which is now left leaderless, with the highest-ranking democrats being congressional minority leaders that nobody can name. 2016 saw Bernie Sander’s campaign against Hillary Clinton, and now the progressive wing is out to take over the party by claiming their own establishment is weak, and that its time for real progressives to stand against Donald Trump.
We will likely see the first battle erupt in later February when the Democratic National Committee will meet to select a new chairperson. Ultimately, it is hard to see the Democratic Establishment surviving, after having dropped the ball so badly in 2016.
We’re likely to see Elizabeth Warren rise to prominence in 2017, as the left flips out about Donald Trump. Unfortunately, this means an ideological shift for the worse in the Democratic party. Expect to hear a lot of identity politics, and appeals to pander to groups x and y, but not z.
The democratic party has traditionally been a party of Social Liberalism. It believed in welfare states and government intervention, but also championed civil liberties and cultural tolerance. This came out of the 1960s and Nixon years, when the left was on the bad end of civil liberties abuse. That was a long time ago and the left has tasted power. Now they are more dedicated than ever to socialistic ideals, as opposed to mere Keynesian interventionism and may be willing to abuse the civil liberties of the people in their way – especially now that those people have gotten Donald Trump elected.
It is hard to say what exactly existing progressive leaders believe about free speech and civil liberties of their conservative foes, however they are always damning of the Citizens United Supreme Court case, and have supported a token push to change the first amendment. They certainly aren’t vocally in favor of campus free speech as President Obama has been.
We’ve seen an authoritarian trend with many progressive student leaders who will eventually inherit the Democratic party, and have the ear of progressive leaders today. And not only are the old Social Liberals of the DNC falling out of favor, but they’re also aging. Democratic leaders are actually older than their republican counterparts. Eventually, they are going to retire, and be replaced by a younger generation which disavows Social Liberalism for Democratic Socialism.
For all his faults, Barrack Obama will probably be the last democrat to value free speech and stop shy of calling for socialism. The left wing parties in Europe adhere to Social Democracy, the idea that much of society, especially the economy, ought to be organized at the discretion of democratically elected governments. This is what Bernie Sanders means when he says ‘Democratic Socialism’, and it is set to become the agenda of the democratic party.
American politics is going to look increasingly like Europe’s politics in 2017, with center-Right parties supporting the traditional establishment fighting with Far-Right groups that oppose immigration and want to expand the welfare state for their own identity groups. Meanwhile, leftist parties seek to push the polity towards a more socialized state.
The good news is that most people don’t like this new polity. Donald Trump won the election, but a majority of people consistently say that he was not qualified to be president. Libertarians have an opportunity to reach out to the disaffected by standing up for what both the Old Right and the Socialists reject: a modern commercial society that promotes cooperation and tolerance.
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