Monday, November 14, 2016

After the Election - Whither the Republicans' Three-Legged Stool?

I first encountered the eminent Anglican cleric and theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600), whose view of the origin of government and law drew upon that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, when I studied John Locke, whose Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689) favorably cited "the judicious Hooker." Locke's references to Hooker have guaranteed that even secular-oriented students of philosophy have at least heard of him. For students of theology, however, Hooker is even more justly famous for his treatment of the sources of authority in the Anglican Church. He identified three - scripture, tradition, and reason - referred to (not by Hooker but by subsequent generations) as Anglicanism's "three-legged stool."

That image of the "three-legged stool" has long seemed an apt one to describe the Republican party - at least up until this most recent election. 

The first leg of the Republicans' "three-legged stool" has hitherto been a commitment to the free-market and limited government. Within that leg of the party, those who label themselves libertarians have been its most extreme wing, but lots of conventional Republicans have identified economically as adherents of the free market and politically as adherents of limited government, without buying into the extreme of libertarian ideology. This leg of the Republican party's stool has largely favored free trade and been open to immigration.

The second leg of the Republicans' "three-legged stool" has been a commitment to a robust foreign policy, in which the United States - as  the primary, if not indispensable, world power - maintains and sustains the international order. From the 1940s through the 1960s, this view represented a bi-partisan consensus in the context of the Cold War and the threat to the United States and the entire international order posed by the Soviet Union. The collapse of that consensus during and after the Vietnam years made the Republican party the more congenial home for this approach to international relations - although it never disappeared from the Democratic coalition. For example, Hillary Clinton came much closer to representing this view than the Republican candidate did this year.  

The third leg of the Republicans' "three-legged stool" has been a commitment to a range of issues generally labelled as "cultural conservatism" - a commitment to roll back or at least arrest the social and cultural changes (especially in regard to human sexuality and the family) that are associated with the 1960s and subsequent movements. While not all cultural conservatives are religious, this leg has been largely associated with the "religious right," a coalition of conservative white Evangelicals and conservative white Catholics.

Of course, the three legs  are not completely complementary and coherent. Both the second and third legs call for an activist government, which in theory is not that compatible with the first leg. Neither the first nor the second leg logically requires any commitment to the other, and neither requires any commitment to the third. Even so, since the "Reagan Revolution" swept the Republicans into power in1980, this "three-legged stool" has been a serviceable image to describe the principal constituencies that have animated the modern Republican party - somewhat in tension with one another, but allied nonetheless at election time. 

In the Obama years, a shared hatred for President Obama and a common obsession with taking away health insurance coverage from 20 million Americans has dominated the public face of the Republican party and has overshadowed - but never eliminated - these internal differences. 

But then came Donald Trump, whose campaign explicitly rejected the accepted Republican orthodoxies associated with the first and second legs and largely ignored the third. Regarding the first leg, he explicitly rejected the party's traditional commitment to free trade and openness to immigration. He campaigned as a caudillo-like strongman ("I alone can fix it"), and seems to favor a Democratic-style, big-government, infrastructure program. Regarding the second, while he has committed himself to a strong military and increasing defense spending, he seems to represent the more "isolationist" wing of the party, seems indifferent to the global alliances, etc., that have been associated with activist American leadership throughout the world, and - most  unsettlingly of all - seems somewhat sympathetic to Russia and its autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin. Regarding the third leg, he has dutifully paid some lip service to culturally conservative concerns, but nothing in his private or public life up until now suggests he has any commitment to, sympathy for, or even interest in the concerns of cultural conservatives - especially religious conservatives.

Presumably, as constituent components of the Republican coalition, each of these constituencies will be able to to get something they want - tax cuts for the rich, increased defense spending, a Justice (or two or three) on the Supreme Court. But each is likely also to be somewhat disappointed. How seriously disappointed will be the million-dollar question. 

Of course, traditional Republicans control Congress, and President Trump will have to reckon with their power. But, having gotten this far - and humiliated the Republican establishment - with his populist style and his intimations of a populist program, it is hard to believe that he will easily abandon all of that and contentedly govern like a quaint chamber-of-commerce Republican, let alone a neocon or an Evangelical!

Again, only time will tell.

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