Given the robust election that has dominated the nation's news, it might seem like both the Democratic and Republican parties are unstoppable forces of political culture.

That may be true to an extent. It's unlikely that any third party will ever seriously challenge the GOP or Democrats.

Unlike our Parliament cousin countries, Americans don't like multi-party governments. We like to keep things simple with just two main parties in our government.

But that simplicity is, well, overly simplistic. A narrow choice of just two parties paints the political sphere in black or white with very little room for moderate, gray areas. 

Yet the world isn't just black or white no matter how our political parties are aligned.

In 2020, political extremism in the parties has grown starker as both parties mostly abandoned the middle ground to focus on their loud, often obnoxious bases. 

It's true, of course, that moderate Joe Biden did win the presidential contest. But that had very little to do with his politics as a moderate.

Biden was elected on anti-Trump votes. Trump imploded and beat himself — Biden happened to be the other horse in the race.

•••

One might think that Democrats would be happy with the results of Nov. 3. Biden won and several states, including Georgia, moved from Red to Purple. 

But overall, Democrats are in shambles. The Senate is a long shot even with two races left to decide here in Georgia; and Democrats actually lost seats in the House.

Those results have sparked a lot of high-profile infighting among national Democrats.

The party's "progressive" wing believes party leaders were too timid and not aggressive enough with left-leaning programs to fire up the left-wing base.

Moderate Democrats blame their "progressive" counterparts for the lack of success, saying the left's crazy call to defund the police and the social justice protesting that became violent scared away potential moderate voters.

Lots of finger-pointing going on.

•••

This isn't the first time Democrats have been a house divided. In the 1930s and 1940s, the party split between Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats ("Dixiecrats") over Civil Rights issues. The Dixiecrats even put up a third-party presidential candidate in 1948.

By the 1970s, white Southerners began to defect from the Democratic Party as it increasingly embraced civil rights and other more liberal agenda items. At the same time, the Democratic Party began to embrace identity politics and group grievances as a mantra, a move that further alienated a lot of its traditional working-class voters.

Today, the party is split between a moderate wing of older, more traditional voters and younger, more liberal voters. 

The result has been that the party doesn't have a real, core identity. It doesn't know who it is or what it should be. It has been bleeding support from its traditional grassroots.

That vacuum left open the door for Republicans to define the Democratic Party as nothing more than a "bunch of socialists" who want to destroy America. 

There are, of course, some self-styled "socialists" in the Democratic Party ranks. Although small in number, they're loud in voice and have played into Republican fear-mongering.

What's not said as openly, however, is that the Democratic Party has become the party of "Black" to a lot of white voters.

A lot of white Southerners are less fearful of socialists than they are of a party which represents the interest of urban Black voters. The Black Lives Matter movement has only increased this feeling of victimization among many white voters.

The response to that is subtle and seldom openly racist. We saw that in this year's local state senate race where several GOP candidates decried "Atlanta values" during their campaigns. That kind of verbiage, however, is nothing but code language for "Atlanta Black culture." 

So one of the thorny issues Democrats face, especially in the South, is whether or not the party can attract white voters in the future. That's especially true among working-class white voters that were, at one time, the base of the Democratic Party, but which have largely switched to the GOP.

Democrats believe that time is on their side; that as the nation becomes more diverse and less white, demographic trends will work in favor of a party that is multi-ethnic.

But demographics is not destiny. Democrats cannot just assume they have the market on minority voters, a fact that was seen on Nov. 3 with a surprising amount of Hispanic support for Trump and the GOP. 

•••

While Democrats are adrift, Republicans are also in shambles. Trump has divided the GOP between traditional conservatives and Trumpism cult followers.

For many in the GOP, Trump has become the Republican Party. His Nuremburg-style propaganda rallies echo a dark chapter in human history where cults of personality became singularly focused on an individual.

Perhaps the most notable example of that was that this year, the GOP declined to even adopt its usual party platform, endorsing instead a salute to Trump.

But with Trump's defeat in the election, Republicans are now split on how to proceed. They've spent four years as little more than Trump apologists, licking his boots whenever commanded to do so. That doesn't look like a workable strategy as Trump moves to the sidelines.

Trump himself has made Republican unity even more difficult since his election defeat. Through multiple lawsuits and strong-arm tactics, he has attempted to overturn the results of the election by having legitimate votes thrown out from areas where he did poorly in swing states.

In the process of that, Trump is throwing fellow Republicans under the bus. 

Here in Georgia, he has thrown Gov. Brian Kemp under the bus repeatedly, including a comment last weekend that he "regrets" having endorsed Kemp in 2018 for governor. (Trump wants Kemp to overrule Georgia's elections results and give the state's electoral votes to him, something that Kemp has no power to do.)

The question behind all of this is what will the Republican Party become going forward? Will it continue to offer populist candidates who have the gift of demagoguery, but no morals, or will it revert back to its traditional base of real conservatives who call for limited government?

Another problem facing Republicans is that during his tenure, Trump elevated the party's far right-wing elements, many of which are rooted in ethnic extremism. The normalization of white power groups and violent anti-immigrant groups has split traditional Republicans, many of whom don't agree with those racist agendas.

The underlying question is: Will Trumpism survive in the GOP without Trump, or will it be thrown into the trash bin of history where it belongs?

•••

Both political parties are weak and divided today. That makes the two Georgia Senate races even more important.

Republicans have to worry that Trump's defeat and his party’s divisiveness might undermine efforts to keep those two seats in GOP hands. Trump's petulance since losing the election could turn off many moderate Republicans who don't want to be associated with his post-election tantrums.

Democrats have to worry that they might not be able to motivate their voters go to the polls again since Trump isn't on the ballot as a motivating boogeyman. 

Which brings us to the final truth: American politics today isn't so much about who you support, it's more about who you hate.

Will American democracy survive a political party system that has gone to hell?

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.