The Democratic Party needs a new, younger leadership before it’s too late | Case Mudde
Jhe population of the United States is much younger than that of most European countries, but its political institution is much older. The 2020 presidential election pitted Donald Trump, 74, against Joe Biden, 77 – compare that to Marine Le Pen, 53, and Emmanuel Macron, 44, in the French presidential election last month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is 71, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80. In the generally younger House of Representatives, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 82, making Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy look like a spring chicken at a mere 57. It’s not about only a problem of the functioning of the democratic system; it endangers its survival.
While the majority of political leaders in the United States are over 65, only a small minority of the population – 16.9% – is. This is a serious problem for the representativeness of the political system. Not only are previous generations much less diverse in terms of ethnicity and race, but they have ideological and partisan profiles. Of course, there is nothing new in this “government of the elderly”, but it increasingly threatens not only the satisfaction of the democratic system, but the system itself.
Although political socialization is a lifelong process, theimpressionable or formative yearsare situated between childhood and adulthood. Likewise, professionally, we are often heavily shaped by the early years of our careers, only partially updating our views afterwards. For Democratic leaders, that means they were politically socialized in the 1960s and their professional socialization in the 1980s — for Biden, it even started in the 1970s. All served in Congress for at least 35 years, from when Ronald Reagan was president — in Biden’s case, it was Richard Nixon — presidents and Republicans, who most voters know only from the history books.
In itself, this huge age gap between the elites and the masses should not create a problem of representation. Politicians like Bernie Sanders (80) and Jeremy Corbyn (72) have become political heroes for a new generation of voters in recent years. And in terms of political priorities and values, even Biden and Pelosi might be relatively close to the people they represent. The real problem lies in their dated understanding of politics and the contemporary Republican Party, and its political leadership, which bogged down in the 1980s.
For example, President Biden regularly recalls the days when he could have lunch with segregationists, when he and the politicians he disagreed with could still “respect” each other. (Incidentally, the segregationists were in his own party at the time.) And Pelosi recently said, “I want the Republican Party to bring the party back to where you were when you care about a woman’s right to choose, you care about the environment.” Now, I only moved to this country in 2008, but I’m almost 55 and I’ve been following American politics for quite a while, and I don’t remember this Republican party.
What Biden and Pelosi still fail to grasp is that the Republican Party is a far-right party, increasingly closer to the far right than to the radical right. A recent survey showed that nearly half of all Republicans agree with the so-called Great Replacement Theory, a racist conspiracy theory primarily propagated by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, but with a decades-long background in far-right Europe. And while the theory may be new (in the United States), the racist sentiments are not. Academics like Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto showed ten years ago that the mobilization of the Tea Party was fueled by racial resentment and, as Rachel Blum more recently shown, the Tea Party has since captured the GOP (allowing Trump’s takeover and further radicalization).
Like many other older members of the liberal media and political establishment, Biden and Pelosi seem to think that media personalities like Carlson and politicians like Ted Cruz don’t really mean what they say and are simply trying to mobilize a crowd with their endorsement of Trump’s stolen election. lying, their whitewashing of the Capitol takeover, or their racist conspiracy theories about a “great replacement.” Regardless of whether it really matters, and whether it’s morally less reprehensible or politically less dangerous – I actually think it’s both more reprehensible and dangerous – it doesn’t matter politically. The genie is out of the bottle!
Not only are Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy not controlling the Republican Party, even Donald Trump is not. When he came out in favor of Covid-19 vaccines, for example, little if any of “his” base changed position. And people like Cruz and Josh Hawley have always chased after the radicalized base, rather than leading it. The fact is that even if there were still people in the Republican Party with the courage and conviction to “take over” the party, they do not have the power to do so. In fact, it hasn’t been “their” party for decades.
It is high time Democrats and Democrats understood this. It is high time that Democratic leaders as well as liberal journalists stop listening to Republican politicians who privately say they disagree with Trump, the insurgency, or “stop the theft.” They don’t matter! What the Democratic Party faces, like the rest of the country, is a political party that openly undermines the democratic system in word and deed. It is the only Republican party that exists, at least for now. And if they don’t act very quickly, this party will have full control of all the major institutions of the country: the presidency, the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court. To avoid this, we need leaders who live here and now, not in an (imaginary) past.