Home > Uncategorized > Why partisanship will increase in the Post-Trump Era

Why partisanship will increase in the Post-Trump Era

from Mark Weisbrot

  • There is a gigantic and increasingly unbridgeable divide on economic policy.

Many are hoping that when Trump — one of the most divisive US presidents in the past century or more — leaves office, the historically elevated levels of partisanship in US politics will at least begin to subside. But the opposite is vastly more likely.

There are short- and intermediate-run, as well as long-run, reasons for this result that have little to do with the Trump phenomenon. Most importantly and immediately, there is a gigantic and increasingly unbridgeable divide on economic policy. And the outcome of this ongoing fight will have an enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods of most Americans.

First and foremost, there is fiscal policy: the federal government’s use of spending and taxation, in this case to facilitate an economic recovery. The Republicans will try to block most helpful spending as much as possible, perhaps most importantly as a fundamental part of their political strategy. They learned something from the Great Recession of 2008–2009. They fought and reduced Democratic stimulus plans — which were not big enough to begin with — as much as possible. The end result was that unemployment in October 2010 was still at 9.4 percent; and millions more jobs were lacking if we look at the decline in employment since the recession, rather than at the unemployment stats only.

This was a resounding success, from their point of view. In the November 2010 elections, Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House, flipping control of the chamber, and gained 6 seats in the Senate.

This strategy also coincides with a long-established tendency of Republican party leadership, since the 1970s, to run up federal budget deficits when they are in power and then return to fiscal conservatism when the Democrats take office. And finally, there are also some true believers in high Republican places; Mitch McConnell used some of these in the Senate to tell Trump “no can do” just before the election, when Trump leaned on Republican senators to reach a deal with the Democrats on the Heroes 2.0 COVID stimulus bill. Trump backed off, perhaps calculating that a fight with Senate Republican leadership just before the elections was not worth the risk.

Senate Republicans also showed their determination to deprive the unemployed of benefits as far back as July, when they waited until just four days before unemployment benefits expired before even responding to the Democrats’ proposal that would renew them.

Fiscal and monetary policy are in general the main determinants of the level of employment and unemployment in our economy, as well as of the economic recovery at present. This is of course vitally important when the economy is still down more than 9 million jobs since February. We have an estimated 26 million people who are going hungry in the United States, and some 714 million at risk of eviction. And many of the jobs lost in the hardest-hit industries such as retail and hospitality will not be coming back. Many workers will have to change occupations and some will be unemployed long-term; at present, the percent of unemployed who are long-term (more than six months out of work) is at 36.9 percent, up from 19.2 percent in February.

Much more spending will be necessary just to pull the economy back to the levels of employment and unemployment that we had before the COVID recession, and to help the millions who have been hurt by the pandemic. We still don’t even know how much worse the pandemic itself will get before the effects of vaccination can seriously reduce infection rates. Yet Republicans have fought tenaciously — even contributing to their own loss of the presidency — in order to block desperately needed funding for health care and education to state governments.

It appears that the Republican leadership’s willingness to finally negotiate a COVID relief package in the last week was driven by the risk that continued refusal could result in losing the January 5 runoff election for the two senators from Georgia. This election will determine who controls the Senate.

All this is just a glimpse of what one part of one big policy difference — on fiscal policy — between the two parties in power would mean for the vast majority of Americans in the immediate and near future. Over the longer run, it means much more. For it is now well-established that America is structurally set up for minority rule. And that minority is the Republican Party.

In the past four decades these structures have grown in their political importance, size, and scope. This applies to gerrymandering, as in the Republicans winning a 33-seat majority in the House of Representatives in 2012, with more than a million fewer votes than the Democrats. It applies to the electoral college, with 8 of the past 20 years under Republican presidents (George W. Bush and Donald Trump) who lost the popular vote; and to the Senate, where about half the US population elects 80 percent of the Senate, while the other half gets 20 percent. And then there is voter suppression that targets minority and poorer voters, and disenfranchises them disproportionately.

Structural reforms will be needed just to make the country into enough of a democracy so that we can actually vote for governments that might treat some of the pathologies that have been cultivated over the past few decades. These include an explosion of inequality that has doubled the income share of the richest 1 percent, and the institutional racism that in 2020 set off the largest protests in US history. Not to mention the democratic governance we would need to move forward on the investments necessary to tackle the climate crisis, before it is too late. The Republicans, not surprisingly, are fighting and will continue to fight against all of the structural reforms that would democratize this country, and that would thereby vastly reduce their chances of holding national power. Together with the policy differences between the parties, this reality will remain the long-run, material basis for an increasing partisan divide, until these structural problems are resolved.

  1. Ikonoclast
    January 8, 2021 at 9:28 pm

    An old joke is that no matter who you vote for you get a politician. For 40 years now, no matter who you voted for you got a neoliberal (monetarist or market fundamentalist) politician. This speaks to the two-party / one-ideology nature of all Anglosphere countries.

    Biden and the Democrats will be more enlightened than Trump and the Republicans on some issues. Identity politics outcomes, in particular, should improve. In terms of class politics, workers, immigrants and the poor might get some more assistance. However, the fundamentals of America will not change or improve. It will mostly likely remain an oligarchic, corporatist, late-stage capitalist country. The chances of radical change are slim.

    The major parties, their politicians and apparatus remain bought and suborned by oligarchs and corporations. The enormous donations to the party political machines ensure this. This in turn means neither major party will enact policies which will threaten its donor base. Ordinary people and poor people cannot elect governments which will govern more comprehensively in thier interests. Policies are skewed to favor the middle class and the rich but mainly just the truly rich.

    Prof. Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof. Benjamin I. Page demonstrated conclusively that policies desired by the rich were by far the most enacted.

    “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.” – Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”.


    There is nothing in the history of Biden and the recent Democrats to suggest that oligarchic and corporate capitalist fundamentals will be any different under them. They might recognize, from enlightened self-interest, that the USA needs a reconstruction of social and physical infrastructure to meet the domestic, international and climate challenges ahead of them. That is the best we can hope for. The USA is in such a poor and stressed condition, from decades of social, infrastructure and ecological neglect plus the impacts of the covid-19 crisis, that it faces three serious dangers;

    (1) An outbreak of Internal radical revolutionary and reactionary struggle between social democrats and neo-fascism;

    (2) Its imminent economic and geostrategic eclipse by China; and

    (3) A climate driven, ecological and thence civilization collapse.

    The USA is not alone in the Anglosphere in facing these last two threats. There are a few minor countries in that sphere (Australia and New Zealand) which likely do not face the first threat.

    We are at an historical divide. The year 2020 is the year that that happened and everything changed. The neoliberal corporate capitalist cancer which had catabolized Western physical and social infrastructure, whiteanting and sacrificing it to the profits of corporate capital, had hollowed out the house of the West. One puff of the winds of pandemic and it has all collapsed. Meanwhile, China stood strong and resilient, conquering the pandemic to date, at least so far as we can tell for China is not transparent. China had already surpassed the US in GDP in PPP terms in about 2016. All this continued talk about “when will China’s economy suprass that of the USA” is absurd and indeed smacks of head-in-the-sand wilful blindness. China had already done that.

    What the covid-19 pandemic has meant is that Western relative retreat in economic power has become a rout. The West is routed and in the most serious trouble. The next five to ten years will most likely see stupendous changes to the geopolitical balance of the globe. Only the imminent dread of existential and mortal danger from China (justified or not) and climate change (most definitely justified) can possibly focus Western minds again on the proper tasks. Only this, plus the fear of internal radical revolution will focus the Western elites and make a new accommodation possible between our Western elites and the rest of us. This time the concessions we wrest, if we succeed, must be extensive, thorough-going and permanent. We must change the political economic structure of the West so profoundly that a future regress to neoliberalism or its like is impossible.

    If this movement succeeds we will become (hopefully) democratic socialists. The chances for rapprochement with China and Russia are slim in my opinion. They have opted for intensified authoritarianism under Putin and Xi Jinping. The USA has taken one step back from that in electing Biden rather than Trump. However, the USA remains deeply divided.

    The West and China must somehow avoid the Thucydides trap. “The Thucydides Trap, also referred to as Thucydides’s Trap, is a term coined by American political scientist Graham T. Allison to describe an apparent tendency towards war when an emerging power threatens to displace an existing great power as the international hegemon. It was coined and is primarily used to describe a potential conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.” – Wikipedia.

    Sadly, it seems only nuclear armed MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) remains to prevent hot war between the blocs. Meanwhile CAD (Climate Assured Destruction) gains on us in an accelerating manner. Only the recognition of this greatest danger affecting us all shows any hope of convincing the superpowers and their allies to unite to fight the common existential danger.

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