I survived the TSA and enjoyed the rest of the conference. Lots of candidates; lots of causes and activism (most with their own caucuses); lots of get-togethers, dinners, and parties; and the basic mechanics of endorsement voting, challenges, resolutions, and so forth.
But what was the overarching theme? Well for me it was present in the backdrop of the conference. I noticed homeless people and signs of poverty in San Jose on my drive back and forth to the comfortable surroundings of the conference center, this despite the fact that the Silicon Valley area is an economic powerhouse in the country and world. Most of the conference speakers gushed about the successes of California under Democratic control, but many acknowledged the extreme economic inequality in the state, which is among the worst in the country. The demographics of conference attendees was interesting to me. Older people (60 and above) and the young college aged were well-represented, in the full tableau of ethnic diversity. But the people in their prime working years (35 to 55) were less visible, perhaps because they don't have the time in their busy working schedules to indulge in political activities, not when they have to economically survive in this expensive state.
The comfortable and the afflicted. That's the way journalist Finley Peter Dunne categorized the people in 1902 ... and it appears to be appropriate today as well. It is similar to the current idea of the wealthy one percent of of our country versus the rest of us 99 percenters, certainly a valid indicator of economic inequality and injustice. But there is a difference. The comfortable may not be wealthy one percenters but they are ensconced in the middle class ... and they have a strong desire for economic and societal stability. The afflicted on the other hand live on the economic edge in our society and have a strong desire to change the rules, even if it means blowing things up.
In my way of thinking, this appropriately frames the current Presidential election, and perhaps the down races as well. The afflicted of this country are demanding change and they want their President to be an agent of that change. The comfortable want their President to be a person who upholds the current order, a person who at most tweaks the system to extract some improvements at the margins. But they certainly don't want to blow things up.
The economically afflicted are not a homogenous group. Many of them are poorly educated whites who primarily identify as Christian. They no longer have the factory jobs that supported middle-class lifestyles and are fighting mad about it. They are joined in this plight by poor people of color, but the poor whites refuse to acknowledge this shared brotherhood, purely on racial and religious grounds.
And now we have an emerging subgroup of the economically afflicted, people who would formerly have been among the comfortable. These are well-educated younger people who are having a hard time finding meaningful employment at a living wage. They are saddled with student debt and feel abused by an economic system that seemingly doesn't need or want them. Many have moved back in with their parents or exist in other loose living arrangements, sometimes verging on homelessness. These well-educated afflicted are racially diverse and generally progressive and socialist in their viewpoints.
In past decades the Republican Party represented the comfortable, well-moneyed establishment, the Main Street businessmen. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, represented the afflicted, the people who desired change. It embraced working class people and unions and people of color.
In more recent times, an evolution has occurred in party orientation. As the memory of the evil Abraham Lincoln faded, white southerners were willing to embrace Lincoln's party, the Republicans. Ronald Reagan helped create the new GOP, which accommodated two seemingly incompatible coalitions: the traditional well-moneyed interests, and the working class whites of modest circumstance, in the south and elsewhere. The well-moneyed establishment intentionally constructed this incongruent relationship so that they could get enough votes to win elections in furtherance of their primary objectives, more and more money for themselves and less and less for everyone else. To get the inferiors in their own party to vote against their economic interests, they had to accommodate their nativist sentiments including resentment of other racial groups, fundamentalist religious attitudes, uber-patriotism, and other imbecilities that the well-moneyed would normally steer clear of.
The Democrats also changed. Some of the well-moneyed people, particularly in New York and the West Coast, were uncomfortable with the new dumbed-down Christian GOP and maintained their relationship with the Democrats. They created a sizable and wealthy establishment within the Democratic Party. The Democrats not only embraced diversity in terms of race, sexual identity, and religion, but they also sought the most highly educated people in the country. But one group was slighted in the process ... the all-important white working class who had been the backbone of the party. Plenty of lip service was given to their cause, particularly when it came to unions, but when the votes for free-trade agreements or tax deals for corporations were cast, the truth was revealed for all to see.
And so here we are. We have two parties, the Democrats and Republicans, and we have two classes of people, the comfortable and the afflicted. There is no longer a one-to-one correspondence between these entities. Both parties have strong establishment forces with comfortable people, and they want to keep things that way. And both parties have the disaffected, who desperately want to change things.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has clearly taken on the mantle of change agent to effect reforms to help the economically afflicted. On the Republican side, the unbelievable has occurred ... billionaire Donald Trump has morphed into the change agent! Bernie and Trump share a few traits. Neither is scripted or run by political professionals. They simply say what is on their mind. Bernie relies on a factual interpretation of current events from his strongly socialist perspective. Trump, on the other hand, is simply trying to make the deal, whether it involves fact or fiction. He is more than willing to break the system, Mussolini-style, as long as it helps him personally. His whole career stands as testament to his view of life.
The Democrats are likely to nominate the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton as their Presidential nominee, and send their change agent Bernie Sanders packing. The Republicans are likely to nominate Donald Trump and send their establishment figures packing. Evidently, the Republicans have more people desiring economic change than do the Democrats.
How will the voters react? Well at a minimum there is going to be a lot of cross voting. I have heard Democrats loudly protesting a Clinton candidacy with the threat to vote for a third-party socialist candidate instead, preferably their beloved Bernie. I even heard one Democrat proclaim that he would vote for Trump because he wants the system changed, and he doesn't trust Hillary to do it.
I have heard some of the same things in reverse on the Republican side. A number of comfortable GOPers are now openly saying that they will hold their noses and vote for Hillary if Trump is the Republican nominee. In their view Trump's bellicosity poses a significant threat to the national well-being, not to mention the stability of their financial investments.
The comfortable versus the afflicted.
Are we going to see a realignment of the parties to accommodate this new paradigm? Will one party accommodate the afflicted while the other welcomes the country club set? Well I thought the Democrats would be the former and the GOP would take on its traditional role with the latter. But now I'm not sure. There may be a splintering into new coalitions ... with multiple parties ... somewhat akin to the Weimar Republic in pre-Nazi Germany. Perhaps a Democratic Socialist Party for Bernie's followers. Perhaps an authoritarian National Socialist Party for Trump supporters. Perhaps the Democratic Party as currently structured for centrists and activists espousing socially progressive causes such as women's rights or LGBT rights. Perhaps the Republican Party for the wealthy elite who are simply focused on their economic well-being with little social conscience of note. Or maybe the majority of people will reject the party concept and simply remain unaligned with any party. Of course, by doing so they are simply ceding their fate to others.
So here we are. We have the comfortable versus the afflicted. A rebellious attitude prevails in the country, presaging change. How will it play out? We are about to find out!