I think I've found a new big theme to start mining, the sociology of the GOP vs. Democrat parties from a materialist rather than idealist framework, from an institutional and coalitional rather than personalized framework, and from the perspective that most of the institutional struggles take place at the elite rather than the popular level.
It all began with this initial post about the Democrats being the Wall Street party and the Republicans being the Pentagon party, with discussion of other factions in each party's coalition, and with some abstraction about what unites the Democrat elites vs. what unites the Republican elites on an economic level.
The current post is a pause in the empirical case studies done so far, in order to clear things up and unify them at an analytical level, before continuing on with more case studies on why the two parties behave the way they do. All posts on this theme will be tagged "Dems vs. GOP," including those already posted. Click on that tag in the "Category Index" on the right-hand column, or on any post with that tag, to see them all.
Briefly, Democrat factions hail from economic sectors where output is not limited much by the costs of materials and labor, as "copies" can be made cheaply or freely, or where a service can be provided to larger and larger scales of customers while using the same number of employees to provide the service. They scale up easily. Let's call these "informational" sectors.
Republican factions hail from economic sectors where output is limited by the costs of materials and labor, where "copies" can only be produced by putting in more materials and paying for more labor. Reaching larger and larger customer bases requires hiring a lot more people to produce all that new output. They do not scale up easily. Let's call these "material" sectors.
The Democrat party has united the elites of the informational sectors, and the GOP the elites of the material sectors, each seeking to use the government as a means of bettering the material status of their own sectors. Because there is only a finite amount of government goodies up for grabs, and a finite number of national positions open for political puppets (1 President, 100 Senators, 438 Representatives), this makes the conflict zero-sum, so that the informational sectors seek to undercut the status of the material sectors, and vice versa -- not out of hatred of what the rival sectors do, or what they believe, but simply to keep the rival sectors from hoovering up more goodies via the state.
These patterns have only emerged over the past several decades, when most of the focus on the alignments of the two major parties has been on their ideologies and values -- Democrats coalescing around a unified set of liberal values vs. Republicans coalescing around a unified set of conservative values. That is a study of the culture wars, which I regard as an epiphenomenon on top of the underlying clash of coalitions at the level of material wealth and power.
While there may be nothing new about the materialist vs. idealist debate, the institutional vs. Great Man debate, or the oligarchic vs. popular input debate, it is new to apply them in the context of the contemporary Democrat vs. Republican parties -- their background and their agendas.
How often do you hear anyone discuss the Democrats as the Wall Street party and the Republicans as the Pentagon party? Usually it is all about liberals and liberalism vs. conservatives and conservatism, whether the discussion takes places in the media, academic social science, or random people arguing over the internet.
Framing the partisan conflict this way is materialist, identifying the material basis of the power or influence that the faction wields over the government (banking, military might). It is institutional, identifying the entirety of Wall Street and the Pentagon instead of disparate banks or military branches, let alone isolated individuals.
It is oligarchic, viewing the struggle as the elites of one faction vs. the elites of another, with little and infrequent input from the populace -- even when they're shouting their lungs out, as with the Trump voters who still have gotten little in return for voting for the Pentagon party (indeed the military has since gotten the American government even deeper in bed with the #1 source of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism, Saudi Arabia).
And it is coalitional, looking at the parties as a coalition of such elite economic factions -- the Democrats represent not only the elites of the banking industry, but also of the media / entertainment industry, and of the hi-tech industry. The Republicans represent not only the elites of the military-industrial complex, but also of the agriculture industry, and of the energy industry.
So that's where the view fits into the wider intellectual traditions in social science. What is new is the application to the current partisan conflict in the United States, and presumably the rest of the Western world -- although I'll only be discussing the country I'm familiar with.
But doesn't it sound darkly familiar that British Prime Minister Theresa May is covering up for her party's support of the radical Islamic regime of Saudi Arabia, as well as her party's role in sending radical Muslims from Britain over to Libya (via Syria) to topple Qaddafi -- only to see them return back to the UK where they go on to blow up Britons at politically neutral spaces like an Ariana Grande concert?
It sure appears as though the Conservative party is as controlled by the military elites over there as the Republican party is here, that both are deeply in bed with the Saudis for the same reason -- military expansion in the Middle East, with Saudis as allies -- and that both must cover up for their jihadist allies when they inevitably run amok, or cause Muslims in the US or UK to run amok.
From now on, I don't want to hear anything about liberals or conservatives, or liberalism or conservatism, as political forces (as emotional, moral, and psychological frameworks, it's fine). Liberals didn't bail out the big banks under Obama's tenure -- it was the Wall Street party bailing itself out. Conservatives didn't invade and occupy Iraq under George W. Bush -- it was the Pentagon party looking to expand its military footprint on the global chess board. And neither had any liberal or conservative ideological basis -- that was just the slapdash, post-hoc rationalizing of the pundit puppet class on behalf of the elites of their respective parties.
And the American people are sick of hearing about liberals vs. conservatives. Trump was lambasted by party elites for not being a true conservative, and he won over the Republican primary voters by responding to the charges with, "Who cares? Our country is a big fat mess, and we don't have time to argue about who's a conservative or not."
On the other side of the anti-elitist movement, Bernie was dragged by party elites for not being sufficiently multicultural, intersectional, and anti-gun. Despite the DNC rigging the primary against him, the party is starting to shift microscopically more in his direction (single-payer healthcare) than back toward the same old Clintonian crap. And he did that not by trying to prove that he really was more liberal than Clinton, but by arguing that class, elitism, and inequality were more pressing issues than who wants to abort the most babies.
Going forward, we should keep this basic framework in mind to analyze current events, to organize people around shared goals, and to identify the obstacles to those goals -- especially when it comes to which sectors of the elite are most opposed to the change.
This will also keep our expectations realistic for electoral politics. At the national level, we are not voting for an individual's agenda, but for the agenda of the coalition of economic elites that control the party of that individual. People thought they were voting for Hope and Change, and they ended up voting for the big banks. People thought they were voting for Drain the Swamp, and they ended up voting for the military-industrial complex.
That is not to downplay electoral politics, but only to temper our expectations, and make us look to organizing ourselves outside of the electoral system in order to put popular pressure on the warring elite factions. Generally the struggle is entirely among the elite factions themselves, but every once in awhile there is a populist uprising, forcing the elites to respond to the people below for a change. Our goal is to ramp up the pressure to such a level that they actually take us seriously.
When enough churches begin to organize against our military brass due to their being so deeply in bed with the jihadist nations, then the Pentagon will have no choice but to dial back their imperial ambitions in the Middle East. When enough labor unions organize against the big banks due to their getting bailed out while the workers go under water, then Wall Street will have no choice but to dial back their manipulation of finance laws.
When the churches and the unions turn up the heat from below at the same time, we will usher in a new Progressive Era that will purify all of the corruption and degradation wrought upon the general public by the degenerate laissez-faire elites of our latter-day Gilded Age.