America is changing, but then again, America is always changing. Two major factors historically guide American political changes: generation gaps in personal and societal expectations, and the occurrence of significant events which impact the minds of the majority of Americans. Both of these factors are operating now.
Societal views change over time. That is why we are no longer burning witches in Salem or running slave auctions in Mobile. The cultural norms of American society bring concrete political changes with them in a delayed fashion. Therefore the shifts in societal norms are a leading indicator of shifts in political alignments to come. The corollary to this is that legal and political changes are trailing indicators of culutral shifts which have already occured.
The generational changes taking place now have to do with the base definitions of social acceptance, self identification, lifestyle choice, and the political association of terms such as “liberal,” and “conservative.” In my parents’ generation the anti-war movement was tied very closely to other, almost exclusively liberal, social movements. While you didn’t have to be a free-lover or a pot head to be against the war, you couldn’t show up at an anti-war rally and start talking trash about animal rights activists.
By the late 80’s a whole new generation who never experienced the Vietnam war directly but was interested in civil disobedience and protesting had latched on to new issues but largely continued to retain the same social cues and emulate the war protesters of two decades before. This sort of protest culture came to be identified with student movements, the open-pot 4:20 culture, a desire for government assistance for the disadvantaged, etc. In short, liberal populism was the realm of the pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-legalization, pro-social services, anti-religion (often this really means simply “anti-Christian”), anti-gun, and sometimes pro-socialist camp and that camp is what the Democratic Party decided to latch on to as a support group.
Standing against that was the other half of the country. They tended to be a collection of people whose agreements began with a universally anti-populist view and who stood for limiting government in all areas possible, including borderline support for economic anarchist efforts. Their agreements ended when it came to issues such as abortion, religion in government (again, generally Christian), gay rights and related social issues. The resolution to conflict on social issues was to focus less and less on social issues and more on concrete issues that affect business, law, and civil governance — specifically adopting a political policy which denies the government involvement in as many areas of civil life as possible. The pro-Christian camp was all about limited government involvement with social issues, as the current legal structure tended to be in agreement with heterosexual Christian life choices and therefore no significant disagreement was to be found between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.
These definitions made relative sense throughout the 80’s, 90’s but started becoming a little shakier as the 2000’s came on. Folks born in the late 1970’s and 80’s were often a lot less enamored with religion, had different views on the role of government in private life and also had different expectations about how their lives would turn out that their parents had. It was no longer necessary to identify Christianity with support for gun rights or tie support for gay rights to a desire to inflate government provision for social services. In fact, in the modern day we see a large shift and a huge number of confused voters whose social agenda is very different from their economic and policy agenda. Christian Right voters who would like to see a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage are running into foundational Republican arguments against government involvement in social and religious issues. Gay rights advocates are running into trouble rectifying their desire to be left alone by the government with the long-standing Democratic arguments for populist support efforts which place the government in the middle of family affairs.
For this reason we are seeing now a broad shift in political leanings and the way those leanings are expressed. We have Libertarian and Anarchist movements detaching from the Democratic base and agitating on their own because they do not agree with the Obama administration’s handling of a broad swath of foreign policy and business issues. On the other hand we have the Tea Party movement swelling its ranks and pulling away from the standard Republican base. Because we have a largely binary political system in the US it is still expected that the Tea Party will vote Republican (despite the misgivings of the Christian Right which forms the significant majority of the Tea Party base*) and that Libertarians and Anarchists will vote more or less in line with the Democratic Party for lack of a better fit that will actually have an impact (they will feel they are splitting the liberal voting base by voting on an independent or off-brand party — and they are right).
* To understand just how mixed up the current political climate is one should be aware that the original Tea Party, call it v1.0, was originally founded on the Federalist, almost libertarian, impulses to be found in old-corps Republicanism, which differs significantly from the way the Tea Party plays things today. Tea Party 2.0 has increasingly identified with social (usually Christian) conservatism which stands in strict contrast to the libertarian-style policies actually mandated by small government Federalism.
Both movements, however, are not insignificant. If anything the existence of the Tea Party is far more distinguishable than the existence of the Democratic dissident columns, but that is merely a reflection of how disorganized the Democratic Party in general is at the moment, contrasted by how relatively intact the Republican Party is. The fact that a new generation with new social definitions is stepping into the shoes of political franchise and exerting their influence is clear.
So what will happen?
I expect the Tea Party to continue to grow in strength, but take on an even more Christian Right feel to it. This will be the quickest way for the Christian Right to find a group it can dominate and will also be the fastest way for the Tea Party to swell its ranks and remain politically significant during elections. The Tea Party, being more based on religion than business, will accordingly begin to focus on socially divisive issues more than concrete policy and present a front that is more or less focused on being anti-abortion, anti-gay, etc. The old Republican tenents of gun ownership and limited governance will continue, but there will come a point when a desire to have the government directly prohibit certain aspects of civil life (such as the choice to marry gay) will overrule the desire to have government remain small. That will be a turning point and signify a split with the Republican base.
On the flip side of the aisle the gay rights, liberterians, economic anarchists, etc. will continue to be increasingly disenchanted by what they perceive to be “all talk, no action” on the part of the Democratic Party on foreign policy issues. They will also increasingly take issue with the broad attempts of the Democrats to regulate industries that affect techhies — which a huge number of this group are. Specific issues such as digital rights management, limits on information privacy and personal encryption (which amounts also to prohibition on personal mathematical exploration) which are being argued in Congress and negotiated at the Executive level internationally will scare the bejeesus out of the personal-rights camp. The most natural fit for them politically would be to eventually split and move to the Republican base once it is generally free of the Christian Right (which, to this point, has been the key article of distaste for the personal-rights advocates).
The changes in how the generation that is coming to power now perceives itself and perceives society will have a delayed impact on how the government functions and who get installed in power there. I would not be at all surprised if in the future we have a shift in social rulings that lower the age of consent, legalize certain recreational drugs, loosen the government’s stance on digital rights management (specifically repeal the DMCA), legalize gay marriage and polyamory, and otherwise move to a more socially hands-off policy on society and individual lifestyle. I would also not be surprised if some sort of semi-federalized healthcare option were eventually put in place, though to conform with the Constitution it will have to be seriously limited in scope as compared to the impractical pile the Obama administration was able to sign in to law recently (which can never be practically implimented anyway).
The shifts I detailed above will eventually become geopolitically significant in ways that we can’t foresee just yet, but not because they are happening inside the United States. The same generational shifts which give rise to these complex dynamics of change are occurring everywhere that matters: Europe, China, Japan, SE Asia, even in the Middle East. While the American policy game will likely not change (America is already largely adjusted to its international role, the discussion above just details an internal national monologue), Europe may well become far more conservative and even hawkish over the next decade, China will likely experience a political and economic collapse (with an attending revolution), Japan will find a new tack on quite a few things, and SE Asia might see a few of its risers actually getting with it enough to project power (specifically Thailand and Malaysia).
And an aside on how I first noticed this:
Changes are on the way. For older voters who do not choose to recognize this, just consider that my generation grew up in an *igger society. That’s totally different than a nigger society — its missing a whole “n.” Being a nigger doesn’t have anything (or at least very little) to do with color these days. We now have wiggers, spigger, chiggers, miggers and niggers. While older, out of touch black leaders still like to hear themselves talk in “black studies” courses at pro-Panther universities which offer such things, all the progressive black folks my age were in different schools or in the Army studying up on real subjects that matter, like mathematics, computer science, music theory, etc. Learning new skills instead of just learning how to be properly blacker. On the flip side of that we’ve had white, brown and yellow kids (not to mention the legion of mixed kids) who grow up enamored with black gang culture and rap turn the whole culture upside down. All that is a reality. And its not really bad or good, it just is. When my Dad was a kid Asians were study and work machines — nothing else. In my generation they have these amazing things called personalities and first names. Whoa! Huge change there. Even in the Army nobody tends to notice race, they notice which group a person self-elects to identify with. The same goes for the fags. Being a fag has nothing to do with actually liking the cock anymore, and nobody really cares what you do with whatever part of you and your lifepartner in another house. A transgender person (i.e. a dickgirl or “transitioned” woman) who doesn’t have a complex about themselves isn’t going to be discriminated against in a job interview — but the lack of a complex is still critical here — turns out a lot of them take themselves far more seriously than your average difficult-to-manage asperger. The examples in this last bit are meant to be whimsical. If you found them offensive then you’ve probably not absorbed enough modern Americana and can go fuck off — and I mean that in the nicest way.