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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Three Models of American Politics

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson: these three giants of American history suggest three ideal types to understand what is happening in our contemporary American Dark Age of Decline. 

John Adams who along with Alexander Hamilton were unionist Federalists advancing the development of a federal government with the powers to hold the states and factions together for defense, for commerce, and for dealing from strength with the nation states of the world. They were the predecessors of the Whigs and then the Republican Party from Lincoln to Taft and Eisenhower preserving the Union and building its industrial capacity as a great capitalist nation. 

Thomas Jefferson with Madison and Monroe were freedom-concentrated Republicans advancing civil rights, local development, public education. Jefferson's greatest dread was the return to monarchy or autocracy. On the other hand, he recognized the distortions of the masses and sought to support the institutions (social habits) that would prevent both autocracy and mob rule. He planted the roots of the contemporary political progressives in which government 's purpose is to assure the welfare of the People--life, liberty, and happiness.

Andrew Jackson appealed to the common man without education or wealth. He fought to limit the powers of those considered elite by education or by wealth and class and opposed their institutions, chiefly central banks and universities. He was the defender of personal property, including slaves, regulated not by the federal government, but by the individual states, all which could be achieved by Western expansion including taking Indian land. 

These early US presidents signify three types of political actors in the US today which I label National Populist, Economic Progressive, and Democratic Republican.

National Populism: Main tenets include America First (economic protectionism, avoidance from foreign engagement, isolationism, aversion of global law and trade agreements), distrust of centralized government (opposition to regulations on guns, environmental protection, land and property rights, corporations, changing local values), wariness of intellectuals and science, cultural assimilation (white supremacy, biblical law, evangelical Christian values, economic individualism), and governance by dominance leadership.

Economic Progressivism: Main tenets include corporate power (minimal taxation, economic individualism, bottom line thinking, Calvinist morality), wealth as measure of success, higher education in management, law and finances, passage of wealth and status through inheritance, business as state priority, increased wealth among corporate elite as the means to achieve national and global prosperity, and hierarchical governance by corporate leadership with business skills.

Democratic Republicanism: Main tenets include human and associational rights, limits on religious and cultural dominance (separation of religion and politics, reason over belief), universal public education, employment, and health care, non-governmental and voluntary associations as the locale of politics, sharing wealth and power, unity not in cultural assimilation but commitment to pluralism with a focus on equity and equality, and governance through broadly consulting, highly educated leadership.
These types correspond to three human dimensions: culture, economy, and politics. National Populism makes cultural values, religion, ethnicity, the core of human individual and social existence. Economic Progressivism makes material wealth or prosperity in livelihood the main drive of the individual and the social order. Democratic republicanism makes the commitment to the dignity, equality, and natural rights of all human persons of whatever cultural status or economic position the foundation of personal and social well-being.

Cultural values, economic interests, and political power are essential elements of humanity. But power is primary. The democratic republican insight is that shared power will lead to shared values and wealth so that all persons can achieve freedom, meaning, and prosperity. Cultural institutions (religious, educational, artistic, and scientific) and economic institutions (businesses, corporations) will thrive ultimately on the foundation of democratic republican principles and institutions.

Appreciation of traditional cultural values and the growth of economic prosperity are imperative for the sustenance of a Democratic Republic; but they are destructive of that Republic when they dominate the popular agenda. This is our situation today when major reactionary forces are advocating freedom for, but not Jeffersonian freedom from, religion. These same forces are reviving the pre-modern notion of a state creed towards assimilation to a dominant culture. And to achieve prosperity, they prioritize and reward the wealthy, rather than enjoin John Adams’ struggle for equity.

Both contemporary established political parties, beholden to economic elites and using populist propaganda, have wavered from democratic republican principles. Employing mass advertising and social media, they indoctrinate the populace with a win-lose, us-them, your side-my side, demagogic mentality. Only the restoration of local politics, place-based publics of persons with diverse viewpoints and win-win mentalities, transcending partisan, religious, ethnic, sexual, and class affiliation, can restore democratic republican principles and, in this way, reform the parties.

I doubt that either political party dominated or distracted by National Populism will take up that challenge. Therefore, I look for leaders of an enlightened future in community-based non-profit, non-governmental organizations. Here I encounter with hope new Sam Adams, Harriet Tubmans, Jane Addams, Martin Luther Kings—people with principles, not dogmas. I share these civil leaders’ underlying faith in the future of people who will think, speak, and act together on solving seemingly small problems like safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, pre- and post- school education, by building publics of involved citizens (with or without national documents) which together constitute the Republic for which we stand.