‘Strategic Extremism’: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
‘Strategic Extremism’: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule by T.J. COLES for Strategic-Culture
As we know, both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are bought, sold, and paid for by big business. For that reason, both have a history of avoiding the issues that are common to Americans of all political persuasions. Addressing such issues would undermine the profits of big business. They include free healthcare, living wages, quality work, secure pensions, unionization, etc.
In order to protect the profits of their business investors, both parties focus on the cultural differences between Americans. As campaigning for the election 2020 gets underway, we can expect the Trump-led Republican Party to increase its inflammatory nonsense in a deliberate effort to mobilize right-wing voters. We can also expect the culturally “liberal” mainstream media to happily take the bait and make Trump’s cultural illiberalism a big issue. As mega-corporations, they also want to avoid real issues.
Until Trump came along, the Republican Party whipped up support among Evangelical Christians by appealing to “moral” issues like abortion (as if free healthcare, for instance, isn’t a moral issue). Because Trump obviously isn’t a Christian, it would have been harder to sell him to Evangelical voters were it not for his platform of Islamophobia. Trump’s cultural provocations are used as a weapon to motivate Republican voters and conceal his egregious economic policies, like Executive Order 13772 on Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System, which seeks to further liberalize damaging financial markets.
Equally, in an effort to avoid core economic issues, establishment Democrats have traditionally appealed to cultural progressiveness, like gay rights.
Morality is common to all human groups. But the precise expression of morality differs from culture to culture. The subjective and variable nature of morality and values makes it easy to use as a tool with which to manipulate voters.
In 2006, Gallup conducted a survey. The results suggested that 71% of Americans believed that the death penalty is morally acceptable, as is using human stem cells for medical research (61%), sex between unmarried people (59%), doctor-assisted suicide (50%), homosexuality (44%), abortion (43%), and suicide (15%). But when the data are extrapolated for political affiliation, differences emerge. Sixty-three percent of Democrats think that the death penalty is acceptable, 69% stem cell research, 65% premarital sex, 53% abortion, 53% homosexuality, 53% doctor-assisted suicide, and 18% suicide. Compare these figures on moral acceptability to Republicans: Death penalty 82%, stem cell research 53%, premarital sex 50%, abortion 30%, homosexuality 36%, doctor-assisted suicide 45%, and suicide 12%.
Just a year before, Glaeser et al. stated that attracting the average voter yields “high” electoral “returns.” As this is the case, they asked an important question: why political candidates take extreme positions (and remember, this is long before Trump). They refer to this political policy as “strategic extremism.” By 2005, religious attendance (overwhelmingly Christian) was as good a predictor of Republicanism as income. Interestingly, income as a predictor of Republican allegiance has been predictable since the 1960s, but religious fundamentalism as a predictor has grown in the same period. It is worth recalling that the late-1960s, but particularly into the 1970s, the US economy was deregulated by both Democrats and Republicans, leading to a decline in wages and the middle-class. Voter turnout among the highly religious increased by seven percentage points between 1976 and 1984, during which time Reagan’s managers fanaticized the Republican Party.
Glaeser et al. explain: “a politician deviating from the median will gain more from energizing his own supporters than he loses by further alienating his opponent’s supporters [sic].” On the abortion issue, the Democrats have moved further left since the 1970s (meaning that their position has been to side with the mother) and the Republicans moved further right (meaning that their position has been to preserve the embryo/foetus/baby no matter what). Team Trump didn’t explicitly try to mobilize the Christian right, though they did implicitly by standing on an anti-Islamic platform. Instead, they mobilized the amorphous alt-right: disenfranchised, usually-wealthy but not super-wealthy voters who considered the Republicans too left-wing. Reaching for the far-right in a country of moderates may seem counterintuitive, until we understand how small statistical shifts can result in significant, aggregate changes.
STRATEGIC EXTREMISM IN ACTION
The comparative secularization of Trump’s main Presidential campaign didn’t affect voter turnout. Pew reports that “white born-again or evangelical Christians and white Catholics, strongly supported Donald Trump,” slightly down from Bush in 2004 but slightly up from Romney the Mormon in 2012.