Hillary Clinton made history last week by becoming any major American party’s first female nominee for the post of president. To think that America the torch bearer of Western values and women’s emancipation never even saw a serious bid to elect a woman as president is mind numbing. A day before her acceptance speech, the first-ever African-American President, Barack Obama, spoke at length and then met Mrs Clinton on stage. In the audience, I watched these surreal events with a degree of amazement. In his speech, President Obama proved once again that there was no greater orator than him in American politics today. But three speeches stood out among others. General (retd) John Allen’s and Cory Booker’s speeches were noteworthy. I will discuss both later. But there is almost a consensus that the speech that stole the show was of the first lady Michelle Obama. Without naming Trump, this wonderful woman deconstructed the Republican nominee’s worldview like no one else has.
I mentioned Cory Booker because here he is being tipped as the next best thing to watch. His name recently came up as the potential candidate for the vice-president’s position. But it is being speculated that he will also run for president one day. His book United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good is also worth reading.
General John Allen’s speech is significant not just because he is a retired four-star general, but also because he came up with a strong message on defence and foreign policy. As he stood there shouting like a drill sergeant, it was plain that he was there to allay the fears of those who thought that the Democratic Party was soft on national security issues. His speech was a part of the broader theme on the last day of the Democratic convention. But what theme? National security? Yes, but something more. Fighting terrorism, the IS in particular? Yes and something even more. What then? Of reclaiming the middle ground. Consider the talk of Khizr Khan, the man whose son fought and died as a soldier in Iraq. And the endorsement of Republican Women for Hillary. In doing so, the Democratic Party sought to fill the vacuum created by the serial kidnap of the Republican Party first by the Tea Party movement and then by Donald Trump. These two insurgencies have made the conservative movers and shakers of the party run for cover.
It was then not a coincidence that in his speech President Obama dwelled on the difference between Trump and Reagan, the man thought to be the cornerstone of conservative thinking in the party. As Trump busies himself in attracting more and more media attention by making ridiculous statements, democrats are painstakingly disassembling the Republican Party brick by brick. It is no wonder then that the conservative Republican ideologues like Bill Krystol and Robert Kagan appear more sympathetic to Hillary Clinton’s cause.
But what happens when the old guard abandons the party? What will be the future of the Republican Party then? Will it cease to exist? Or will it split? And more importantly, what will become of the Democratic Party if it moves further to the centre to fill in the vacuum thus created? Finally, what becomes of the two-party system?
The answer of the first four questions depends largely on Trump’s electability. If he wins — a prospect that troubles many in the US and abroad — the party then will have little choice but to redefine itself. However, if he loses — as seems probable — the party will be left with no moral compass except populism. The old guard will then have a chance to let the old one sink along with its Tea Party and create a new platform. Whether they try to do that is still not clear despite its likelihood.
And what happens to the Democratic Party? We have already seen Bernie Sanders’ insurgency. Trouble is that it is only the Democratic Party that can unite a deeply divided country. So it will have to, simultaneously, convince the disaffected insurgents and continue its bid to occupy the middle ground. Is it even possible? Well, the party certainly has the capacity to do so. And on whether there is something new that can replace these two main parties, there is near-consensus that American politics will be dominated by a two-party system.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2016.