The unexpected political events of 2016 may be explained by societal disruptions caused by a combination of new communications technologies (social media, Twitter and reality television), demographic changes (minorities become the majority; white European culture no longer dominates), economic limitations (anxiety that the American Dream is dying for the middle class), disillusionment with economic advancement and current political leadership, rapid changes in mores and reactive revulsion against such changes.
This happens in America every 40 or 50 years.
- I have listed the six or seven political party systems in the United States since the nation adopted the Constitution and Bill of Rights in 1789. We are overdue for another major realignment.
- I have posted evidence that this is a perilous time for the Republican and Democratic Parties, with an overwhelming majority of Americans calling for a third-party challenge. But state laws make third party challenges difficult to place on ballots, leading to frustration and a feeling that the system is rigged.
- I’ve documented that a significant minority and sometimes a majority of Americans are appallingly ignorant of basic American history and government, 40 percent of citizens would fail the test that every new citizen must take, many are fact-averse, one out of three would blithely abandon Constitutional rights for other citizens (if not for themselves).
- I’ve pointed out that the rise of Trump raises serious questions about the viability and health of American democracy, which is dependent on an informed electorate. In an earlier time, Trump could not have succeeded with his lack of specific proposals, his factual errors, his inconsistency, his vulgarity and ad hominem personal attacks, because the mainstream media and the politicial establishment were more powerful gatekeepers, protecting the people from demagogues and from too much direct democracy. After his “gaffes,” the mainstream media would have refused to cover him. But now, in a far more competitive and diverse media environment where the competition for viewers is intense, Trump demands attention. He can tweet out responses to his millions of followers. Info-tainment — insults, crudity and childish behavior — become news, even though it degrades the political process. We have seen the triumph of a media whose mission is creating sensation or covering spectacle, confirming prejudices and stereotypes, over a traditional media whose mission was serving the public with knowledge, substance, challenging stereotypes and prejudices.
- Jill Lepore, Harvard professor, had an insightful piece in The New Yorker called “The Party Crashers: Is the new populism about the message or the medium?” It includes a good summary of the history of political party systems in America, along with a suggestion that the U.S. is undergoing another historic shift in political power. She writes:
"There will not be a revolution, but this election might mark the beginning of the seventh party system. The Internet, like all new communications technologies, has contributed to a period of political disequilibrium, one in which, as always, party followers have been revolting against party leaders…The fate of the free world does not hinge on this election. But the direction of the party system might. And that’s probably worth thinking about, slowly and deeply."
The current communications revolution could destroy or at least reduce the power of the political party system, she says, and replace it with something less stable, “wobblier.”
"With our phones in our hands and our eyes on our phones, each of us is a reporter, each a photographer, unedited and ill judged, chatting, snapping, tweeting, and posting, yikking and yakking. At some point, does each of us become a party of one?
…The party had been crashed; the system had been hacked."