Friday, September 11, 2020

Political parties are supposed to present positions and uphold principles. Ideally.

Why do political parties exist? Not only for politicians to mutually support each other, but for the public to have a shorthand method of understanding what positions are being discussed at any given time and to give voters an easy way to accept a "package deal" of positions that they don't otherwise fully understand.

Chris Hayes explained it in 2012: “Choose nearly any important public issue — the long-term solvency of Social Security, the effect of taxes on growth, the importance to student performance of merit pay for teachers — and you will find smart, well-credentialed, and energetic advocates arguing for mutually exclusive positions. In this way, the voter is asked to referee a series of contests for which he or she has absolutely no independent expertise. That’s why political parties are such a useful part of liberal democracy; they take on much of this informational burden. Citizens come to associate themselves with a party for myriad reasons — affiliation of worldview, agreement on a few vitally important issues, demographic and tribal association — and in turn the party grants back to those citizens a position on a whole host of issues that they otherwise would not have the inclination, resources or time to develop independently.” (Chris Hayes. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. New York: Broadway, 2012.)

And so I am thinking today about how the Republican Party has — quite literally — no 2020 platform. The "platform committee" did not convene. They decided that it was only necessary to reassert their support for Trump, and they put out a statement saying so.

In which case, the political party is serving the purpose of helping its own members gain and remain in power, but it is not serving the purpose of helping voters understand or commit themselves to any particular set of issues.

Trump has a lot of failures this week. Called dead soldiers "suckers" and "losers"? Yep. Admitted to a journalist that he was downplaying the pandemic? Yep. Mentioning the fact that California is on fire? Nope. And this is just the first week of September. He can get away with it, though, because there is no longer a Republican Party that has a platform and expects him to hold to any principles. There is only a "party" that supports whatever Trump says and does.

Update: As of September 22, it appears that the Republican senators are planning to confirm Trump's Supreme Court Justice nomination without even knowing who it is yet.

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