The Republican Convention this past week in Cleveland brought a paradigm shift; a profound and historic change which could well in time awaken a new generation. It has already put to rest an older generation. It might in hindsight be identified as the beginning of a shift in post-World War II attitudes that advanced centralization and globalism to a new approach favoring decentralization and nationalism.
This could amount to a “bloodless coup,” like the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which would tell England once and for all what kind of country it would be, and bring as great a shift to American political sensibilities as did the Civil War. In fact, the Republican primary season and the Republican Convention of 2016 could be seen as a “bloodless coup” that abolished the traditional Republican party.
There are two fundamental, systemic, tectonic shifts that should be taken from the convention. The first is that Meredith Whitney was right: America today rises in the center and leaves the edges behind. As Eamon Moynihan reports on Whitney’s 2013 book The Fate of the States: The New Geography of American Prosperity, Whitney predicts “the rise of a zone of prosperity from the Gulf Coast through the heartland and up to North Dakota . . .”
As Whitney’s book predicts, therein lies the future and that rising America was on display throughout the convention proceedings.
What with all the excitement, it might have slipped through the net but viewers of the early Tuesday afternoon presentations by a host of Republican governors across the country and most from the heartland brought virtually all to a unified Jeffersonian chorus: The heartland states are rising together and rising in unison. Brief video presentations from Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina to Sam Brownback of Kansas brought the same message: The federal government is an unnecessary and unwanted interference in the running of America’s business.
We have heard this before with Richard Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech which was echoed in tycoon Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the convention and most eloquently by Dwight Eisenhower in accepting the nomination for President at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1956:
“Principle says: ‘Geographical balance of power is essential to our form of free society. If you take the centralization shortcut every time something is to be done, you will perhaps sometimes get quick action. But there is no perhaps about the price you will pay for your impatience: the growth of a swollen, bureaucratic, monster government in Washington, in whose shadow our state and local governments will ultimately wither and die.’”
Like Detroit today. Like Newark, like Youngstown, like Flint, Baltimore, Jackson, Mississippi, and so many other once prosperous industrial cities, states and regions left to rust in the shadows as capital moved abroad.
Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, has long been a key advocate of decentralization.
“Washington, D.C. is not only broke, it’s broken,” he told an NRA crowd in 2014. “The longer I serve as Governor of this great state, the more convinced I am that the cure for what ails this country will come more from our nation’s state capitals than it ever will from our nation’s capital.”
The call for smaller government is the conservative’s oldest chestnut. But this time it is different. Individual governors today and governors working in coalition are rising to be the avant garde in conservative politics. This is an inherently Jeffersonian movement away from centralization to decentralization. I don’t see that the Bushes, the neocons, or Mitt Romney and company are at all relevant to this new collective political direction, so dramatically expressed last year by Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s challenge to President Obama on immigration in which he was joined by 25 other states.
The second takeaway from the Convention is this, the unified chant from the crowd of “Lock her up.” The tenor of the cry was deep, angry and insistent, not unlike that heard at spontaneous revolutionary beginnings and that is perhaps what it was. For what the chanting crowd is bringing to the country and as is quickly becoming apparent, to the outside world and to Europe in particular, is a movement and it is prelude to something else, something just ahead, a spirit rather than a program; a spirit rising to a new era only beginning to find form and expression.
And there is a third takeaway, related to those two: At the 2016 Republican Convention we witnessed the death of the Republican Party as we have known it.
Gary Johnson, the impressive Libertarian candidate says that the Republican party is dying and we are today experiencing its death cough.
“The Republican Party is on its way to becoming like the Whigs. The Whigs died, then a new party came forward with an inspiring and positive vision for America,” he writes in Politico. “We in the Libertarian party hope to do the same.”
I hope they do as the folkloric and legendary Brahmin and former Republican governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, running as Johnson’s vice president, has identified both himself and Mr. Johnson as “classical Jeffersonian liberals.”
“We believe that government is best that governs least,” he writes, which is well in accordance with the message of Mr. Pence and the heartland governors at the Republican convention.
I believe Mr. Johnson is correct and that the Republican party has faced throughout this primary season a fate like that of the Whigs. Those “sitting it out” and waiting for 2020 will be disappointed. But the replacement has already awakened this past week, born in the cries and whispers of the historic convention in Cleveland.