AFTER FORTY YEARS: THE TURN

Back at it: We appear to be at the beginning of a new political era. During the period from 1933 till 1979 (after the 1978 election) Congress was dominated by the Democratic Party in all but four years. During those years, the minority Republicans could get things passed only by cooperating with the majority Democrats. And that did often happen because there was within the Republican coalition a large faction of moderates who were themselves modernizers.

That period of Democratic Party dominance ended due in large part to the efforts of Richard Nixon to gain a Republican majority by capturing the White very conservative South. In the House itself, Republican leader Newt Gingrich adopted a new “take-no prisoners” style of politics designed to render the House system dysfunctional in order to engineer a Republican take-over.

While Gingrich worked to render the Democratic majority impotent, Ronald Reagan, after his election in 1980, did his best to render the departments dysfunctional. The assumption was that weak departments meant that governmental functions could be more efficiently performed by private business.

Forty years of deliberate government dysfunction reached its nadir with the election of Donald Trump. Trump, in his person highlighted just how vulnerable the system had become. Just as it became obvious that the Administration was unable to deal with the deadly pandemic in an organized way, the events of January 6th showed that the Capitol had become vulnerable to a violent domestic uprising.

So, after forty years, we have finally arrived at The Turn. If you are now forty years old this will be the first time that the national government has had an opportunity to function normally. It will seem strange after years of uproar. We will see relatively little of the President and his top advisors. They are tremendously busy. So many things have to be done, to be decided. Donald Trump could be so visible because so much of normal presidential deliberation and decision making was being done by others.

A great deal of presidential attention will have to be directed at those hollowed out departments. That will not be the kind of work that will get much public attention outside of Washington but it will have to be done. Many government buildings reportedly have furniture stacked in the halls because the Trump administration simply did not bother to hire people. And, the people they did hire were often unqualified.

We are going to hear noise from the Russians, the Chinese and the North Koreans. The leaders in those countries were uniformly hoping that Trump would be returned to office. He clearly was more comfortable with authoritarian leaders and certainly posed no threat to them. Now, with the Biden administration, they find themselves facing the unknown. They will be testing and prodding!

So, how do we know that this really is a turn; that the forty years of conservative dysfunction is really over? It is certainly true that the minority party has often gained seats in the Congress two years after a new President comes in. Enthusiasm for a new presidential candidate can carry people into the Congress on his coattails only to have some of them swept back out two years later.

If by next fall everything is exactly as it is today, then certainly in conservative areas conservative Trump supporters would be elected because they would be the ones most apt to win in primaries. But, things are not going to be exactly like they are today! Donald Trump is going to be occupied by his legal and financial problems. He may simply lose interest. He certainly is going suffer some fade over time.

Republican candidates will be running in the first election after the pandemic is substantially over in a political world where the Biden Administration is being given the credit for ending the threat posed by the virus. The general feeling of uplift and of celebration may inspire voters to respond.

Republicans are hoping to win by suppressing the vote. There now some 250 bills in state legislatures designed to make it harder for voters who normally vote Democratic to vote. Those are going to get a tremendous amount of publicity. Those bills that do pass are going to be challenged in the courts. The real effect may be to increase the number of Democratic voters who come out to negate Republican efforts at voter suppression.

Voters, by 2022, will have had two years of a more activist Biden Administration and find that they like it! With the economy booming and progress in the air there may be little enthusiasm to return to what then will be viewed as the bad old days. They will also know that the vaccination of the nation was really the result of Biden’s ability to get things done.

By 2024, the seventy eight year-old Trump may still be locked up in his financial and legal problems and not even seem to many Republicans a viable candidate. And, Republicans will find that many of the Trump voters who seemed so dedicated will simply have lost interest in politics. Many of them were, after all, traditional Democrats who were attracted to Donald Trump’s personality and bombast. They certainly will not constitute a large enough number to win elections.

It is then that we will know that the forty year attempt to move backward is finally over!

H.J. Rishel

3/23/2021

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all

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