Politics in the biggest “hinge moment” since the industrial revolution?

Politics in the biggest “hinge moment” since the industrial revolution? March 31, 2015

Political thinkers are pondering recent claims that we are in the midst of an epic  transition that will rival the industrial revolution, wondering what difference these changes will make politically.  The projections deal with technology but also demographics, as whites will soon become an aged minority in the United States.

So far the political implications being heralded are that the midwest will fade in political clout in favor of growing ethnically-diverse states.  And that Republicans need to reach out to immigrants.  But if we are going through a change bigger than the industrial revolution, there is surely more to it than that!

After the jump, an excerpt and a link to a much-talked about article in Politico, followed by an excerpt and a link to Peter Wehner’s discussion of what this needs to mean for Republicans.  But then I will weigh in on what these political analyses are missing.

From Doug Sosnik, America’s Hinge Moment –POLITICO Magazine:

The country is going through the most significant period of change since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Across the United States, we are seeing a convergence of economic, technological and demographic forces that is transforming every aspect of our lives. These changes are all reinforcing each other, adding to the pace and the scale of the disruption. . .

Years from now we are going to look back at this period of time and see it as a “hinge” moment, a term Princeton Physicist Freeman Dyson used to describe a connection point that ties two historical periods in time, one before and one afterwards.

The University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow has observed that “for only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history.” He goes on to say that “from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century.”

As the Industrial Revolution made clear, these kinds of moments don’t happen overnight; they build over time. Like then, a series of factors are now contributing to the tipping point we are rapidly approaching—most notably the economic uncertainty, global instability and technological advances that the country is experiencing. On top of these drivers, there is a demographic transformation taking place that is literally changing who we are as a country. . . .

[Keep reading. . .]

Peter Wehner in a Commentary article entitled Politics in an Age of Epic Transition, gives a Republican response:

The Republican Party, particularly if it hopes to be successful at the presidential level, needs to take these shifts into account. Some on the right seem to want to ignore these changes, or deny them, or undo them. None of these options are wise, and if pursued, each of them will fail.

For Republicans to succeed, they need to produce political leaders, and most especially a presidential nominee, who understands how our nation is changing; who can explain what these changes mean; and who can convince voters who are not now voting for the Republican Party why it’s best able to harness the forces that have been unleashed.

The Republican nominee needs to explain to voters why this transformative moment shouldn’t be feared but grasped; why it presents us not only with tremendous challenges but also with extraordinary opportunities.

This will require putting forward a modern, creative 21st century agenda that addresses middle-class concerns like higher education and health-care costs, wage stagnation and stalled social mobility. It means nominating a conservative standard-bearer who is a reformer and change agent, who voters believe can lead America to a new era of prosperity and renewal. And it means choosing a person to represent the party who, when saying our best days are ahead of us, is actually believable–and who inspires confidence in skeptics rather than simply inciting passion in supporters.

If we are, indeed, going through a new era equivalent to the Industrial Revolution, it strikes me that both the Democrats and Republicans are responding to it in old-era terms.

Candidates need to address “middle-class concerns like higher education and health-care costs, wage stagnation and stalled social mobility”?  These are New Deal issues.  This is not going to be a revolution of the “middle class.”  That would be the social class and the priorities of white midwesterners who are going to be marginalized.  The ethnic groups that are crowding them out are not typically middle-class.  As Robert Putnam shows, we need to attend to the poorer class.

But even such breakdowns may not apply in any new era.  The Industrial Revolution did divide people into the “middle class” property owners and the “working class” proletariat, a division exploited by Marxism and still a category used by contemporary liberals.

But if we aren’t in that era any more, might there be something different?  The new technology puts incredible computing and information power in the hands of virtually anyone.  Might that not erase some of the class distinctions?  The Industrial Revolution finished off the “upper class” as conceived of in the medieval hierarchies, putting the bourgeoisie in charge.  Might not the new technology eliminate the bourgeoisie, making us all proletariat bohemians?  Or make it more possible for a member of the proletariat to become wealthy?  And might the new information technology make geographical factors, which these political analyses emphasize, less relevant?

And what would be the cultural implications of the demographic changes?  If  whites become a minority, that will not be because of black people, whose numbers aren’t growing much either.   Instead, the population will become more and more Hispanic.

So what would the Hispanicization of American culture look like?  We might have stronger families.  That would be a plus.  The country would become more Catholic than Protestant.  Maybe even more pro-life.   We might actually have stronger moral values than we do now. Democrats who are giddy about all of the Hispanic votes they are likely to get need to consider that Hispanics are typically more pro-life, less feminist, and less pro-gay than the current Democratic party is today.

Asians are another growing demographic.  Their influence will surely be positive, with their culture of hard work, strong families, and entrepreneurship.

The futurists are adding together all of the ethnic groups and counting them as one, against the dwindling number of whites, who will still constitute 44% of the population.  But the individual ethnic groups will probably remain less than that.  To lump them all together is to assume that they are all the same, but they are not.   If the Hispanics bolster the Democrats–perhaps making them pro-life?–the Asians might bolster the Republicans.

On the other hand, important political values such as Democracy and individual liberty and the rule of law have historically been rather hard to find in Hispanic nations.  India, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are democracies, but many other Asian countries have tended towards authoritarian regimes.  Many immigrants are fleeing authoritarian regimes, which means they might react against them in the direction of political liberty, though they might fall back into the only patterns they know.

The point is, no one knows if we are really entering such a new era.  And if we are, what the consequences will be.

What do you think might happen if these changes materialize?

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