In 1975, Margaret Thatcher wrested the reins of the Conservative Party in Great Britain from the hands of establishment toffs and embarked on a campaign framed by right-wing tropes that would take her to 10 Downing Street and the pinnacle of power four years later. From that vantage point during the ensuing decade, she would radically alter the post-World War II political paradigm in Great Britain in ways that still affect British politics.
A shrewd, ruthless tactician and a visionary strategist, she exploited a global economic crisis and the intellectual exhaustion and feckless governance of the dominant Labour Party to redefine — recall, she said — what it meant to be British, stressing law and order, cultural conservatism, capitalism, and individual opportunity and responsibility, while deploring social anarchy, democratic socialism, the insidious effects of immigration and the “enemy within.” (Think Deep State.) She vowed to make Great Britain great again, and she went a long way toward keeping that promise.
It is fortunate for Democrats and the country that when similar economic, social and political dynamics called Donald Trump from the deep regions of the American id in 2016, he proved to be more Moe from the Three Stooges than the Iron Lady of Falklands fame. This is not to say Trump did not profoundly change the state of play in American politics; he obviously did. But his all-encompassing ignorance, consistent incompetence, malignant narcissism and personal vileness prevented him from sweeping all before him and creating a paradigmatic shift based on common consent as Thatcher did across the pond.
But now Republican Party elected officials from Washington to Wewahitchka are trapped by their bargain with the devil, shackled to him by fear of his fanatical adherents, a fear that prevents the GOP from being anything more, bigger or better than it is regardless of what U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says to the contrary. Intraparty purges, obligatory and embarrassing obeisance to the Man of Mar-A-Lago, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene rambling around the country feeding red meat to the rubes, and manufactured outrages like the Dr. Seuss tempest in a teapot are the hallmarks of the party of Lincoln today. These are hardly the building blocks of the lasting political hegemony sought by Thatcher.
Yet the GOP is not without hope. It still has the Democratic Party, practiced in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in pursuit of doctrinal purity. I have written in the past that the Democratic coalition that eked out an Electoral College win for Joe Biden is a Star Wars bar of special interests but, in retrospect, this is a too flippant and disrespectful. I now prefer “agglomeration of the aggrieved,” which is as accurate but somewhat more dignified than the Star Wars bar metaphor, although no less culturally diverse and politically unstable.
I am in doubt, for example, about the actual depth, breadth and endurance of the solidarity of white women and Black women. Not infrequent tiffs among activists in the two groups about priorities, precedence and credit come to mind, and we know for a fact that white women without college degrees are having none of it. And I wonder how much Hmong tribesmen and Vietnamese refugees and their descendants, on the one hand, really have in common with the “model minority” of Chinese-American and Japanese-American overachievers, on the other hand. Or how do the lived experiences of the Chamorro on Guam intersect with those of the people of Puerto Rico? Are the 60% of Hispanics who identify as white a reliable Democrat constituency in the future? Republican gains among them in 2020 might make one wonder.
But I suspect the most politically impactful Democratic theme, which forges to the fore in almost any discussion of public policy these days, is that racism in America is systemic (inherent). Logic requires that the conclusion to an argument in which the premises are that racism is evil and America is inherently racist is that America is inherently evil. If this is not what people flying the systemic racism flag are intending to say, it is nevertheless what many of their auditors are hearing — and not embracing. Thus the traction that conservatives get with attacks on Critical Race Theory as teaching children to hate America.
Then there is the Democrats’ determination to do a reverse Thatcher on the economic front. More centralized planning and control. Out with monetarism and back to Keynes on steroids. Literally creating a nanny state by subsidizing child care with direct and indirect payments from the cradle through college. Large chunks of the Green New Deal repackaged as infrastructure. All in all, the most liberal national agenda in at least half a century in a nation balanced on an ideological knife edge.
It is our misfortune that the bread and butter of both major political parties is polarization, with one the captive of a megalomaniac and his cult and the other in thrall to the “agglomeration of the aggrieved” and their ambitions, neither with the will nor the wit to change the game and find a middle way through the morass in which we find ourselves.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.