Over the past two decades America’s second political party has devolved into a circus of the bizarre, an open revolt against reality. As the tide of crazy swamps the GOP, many on the left entertain fantasies of an impending Republican implosion that will fulfill all their dreams of power.
A stark realization awaits them. The political dysfunction that has swallowed the GOP is not a distinctly Republican phenomenon.
Republicans individually are no dumber, crazier or more venal than anyone else. The GOP has simply been the first to tumble into a vortex that is pulling at our entire political culture. Republicans aren’t worse than Democrats. We are just running a little ahead.
This observation is outlined in more detail in The Politics of Crazy: How American Lost Its Mind and What We Can Do About It. In summary, the case unfolds as follows:
While the global triumph of capitalism has brought massive benefits, any revolution on such a scale creates dangerous new challenges. Collectively, humanity is freer, wealthier and safer than we have ever been in history, but the same forces delivering these impressive results are eroding the social capital institutions on which our political system is constructed.
Democrats have always enjoyed a sturdier network of institutional support than Republicans. As a consequence, Democrats have been slower to feel the impact of our declining engagement in public institutions of all kinds. Nonetheless, that impact is coming. What Republicans are experiencing now waits on the horizon for Democrats.
Potential remedies are described at length in the book, but putting them into practice will not be easy. Responding effectively to the demands of a radically freer, more prosperous culture will require a new policy template, updated expectations about what government can and should deliver, and a greater willingness among the public to invest their most precious asset – their time – in public life.
Before any of these things can happen we must come to terms with what we are experiencing. Most Democrats see the surprising support for Bernie Sanders as a sign that the country’s mood is leaning leftward. What they should see is the rise of their very own Pat Buchanan.
Democrats chuckle gleefully as Republicans stumble over climate denial or face pressure to endorse creationism. They marvel as otherwise competent adults ignore indisputable scientific evidence to protect cherished myths.
Meanwhile pressure grows on the left to ignore the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods, nuclear energy, homeopathic medicines, and the nutritional value of organic foods. Where the right mythologizes the past, the left mythologizes nature. The right reserves its strangest outbursts for matters related to sex while many of the left’s most persistently irrational fixations relate to food.
Contrary discoveries can rarely penetrate the fog of cognitive dissonance. From The Food Babe to The Mattress Girl, the Whole Foods Wing of the Democratic Party has no more respect for objectively discovered reality than your average Pentecostal evangelist.
Democrats, up to now, have distinguished themselves from their sad cousins on the right by their capacity to keep their lunatics in line. They can reap the votes of political oddballs, at least in Presidential Election years, without having to grant those voters much influence.
The Politics of Crazy explains why they are slowly losing control. Democrats can limit the influence of their noisy fringe though the lingering, though diminished power of certain key institutions. As those institutions continue their steady decline, Democrats are dragged toward an inevitable tipping point, the event horizon beyond which their Republican rivals have already slipped.
Massive crowds are greeting Bernie Sanders, the honorable Senator from Baja Canada, as his “message” campaign for the Democratic nomination threatens to become an actual campaign for the nomination. President Obama just suffered a crushing defeat on a crucial Pacific trade bill, only to be rescued by Republicans. Five years ago Obama’s press secretary had this to say about the President’s critics on the fringes of the left:
“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
He’s right, but reality will probably matter less and less in Democratic politics in the future. The days when a Democratic President can govern in open defiance of “the professional left” are coming to an end.
Democrats may get a lot of entertainment from the absurd spectacle of the 2016 Republican primaries. They should also recognize the shadow of their future in the antics on the Republican debate stage.
Institutional barriers that stunted the influence of the craziest voices on the left are crumbling. Between the laughs, Democrats would be wise to start thinking about how best to respond when the Politics of Crazy sweeps over them.