The Soul of the New Machine

Joel Kotkin
Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

Thirty-five years ago Tracy Kidder electrified readers with his “Soul of a New Machine,” which detailed the development of a minicomputer. Today we may be seeing the emergence of another machine, a political variety that could turn the country toward a permanent one-party state.

This evolution has its roots in California, where a combination of Silicon Valley technology, changing demographics, control of media, culture and academia have worked to all but eliminate the once-fearsome state GOP. For all intents and purposes, the California Republican Party has ceased to exist.

But this is not, as some conservatives contend, a case simply of California lunacy. Several once historically conservative states — Colorado, Arizona, Nevada — have been turning ever-bluer in recent elections. The party now barely is able to hold onto seats in places such as Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, while the Midwest, the region that elected Donald Trump, seems to be shifting back to its bluer past.

The road to Dominion

Just two years ago, the Republican Party was at its apex at the state level, while controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet Trump’s histrionics and narcissistic persona have undermined his own party, as Utah’s defeated Rep. Mia Love recently suggested. “It’s all the Donald that’s killed us,” says Kevin Shuvalov, recounting the beating Republicans suffered in most Texas metro areas, and where Beto O’Rourke almost dethroned Senator Ted Cruz.

Trump’s antics, particularly on immigration, have brought the fabulously rich Brahmin elite — Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, the Silicon Valley billionaires — out in force, continuing a trend that has been building for at least a decade. But they also built a very impressive grassroots funding base. Together these two efforts allowed the Democrats to garner effort for two-thirds of spending on critical congressional races.

Money, as the late Jesse Unruh put it, is “the mother’s milk of politics” and the Democrats employed it in part to finance a first-rate get out the vote effort. This helped raise the midterm turnout to its highest rate since 1914. Numerous well-targeted campaigns in fairly affluent suburban districts saw GOP candidates, notably in Congress, chopped up like unwelcome crabgrass.

In my own Orange County district, Elizabeth Warren acolyte Katie Porter outspent, out-hustled and out-thought our listless Congresswoman Mimi Walters. Porter canvassers, young and enthusiastic, visited our house three times, but we never saw anyone from Walters’ campaign. Porter’s well-done ads, following the approved script of health care and opposition to Trump, appeared on popular websites and sports events, while Walters’ were virtually non-existent. In the end Walters’ addled handlers tried to win by waving the bloody shirt of potential tax returns and calling Porter a liberal; those old tactics failed miserably.

Demographics and political economy

Amid the best economy for minorities in a generation, the Republicans have managed to further alienate the fastest-growing groups in the country. The Latino share of the midterm vote, notes the GOP consulting firm of Melman Castagnetti, has risen from 5.6 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2018. Two-thirds of those votes went to the Democrats.

Other strongly Democratic groups — millennials, educated women, professionals — also turned out in big numbers, leaving the GOP with an aging, heavily white and working-class base. As suggested by falling oil prices, a weak housing market and new layoffs at General Motors, the GOP’s economic base could be buckling. In the long run the Democrats now enjoy almost uniform support from the less threatened quasi-monopolies of the tech and media oligarchy.

To this, notes one GOP strategist, add Trump’s uncanny ability to alienate well-to-do conservatives. When the rich of Dallas, for example, close their wallets while the Silicon Valley types, Wall Street and Hollywood open theirs, it’s a recipe for GOP disaster.

The only thing Democrats need to fear is themselves

Trump has accelerated the movement of almost everyone — outside his working class and Main Street base — toward the Democrats and their shiny new machine. But politics is not yet fully based on algorithms; people still have unpredictable sensitivities, even if the alternative is Trump.

Several issues could derail the Democrats, notably their apparent embrace of “open borders,” something most Americans will not welcome. Their parade of “free” programs may mean much higher taxes. More regulation, notably on energy, and calls for a climate change “command economy” could threaten the incomes and lifestyles of most Americans, particularly the critical suburban voters. Programs that punish the middle and working class in order to “save the planet” are already causing chaos in France. This might happen here as well, but only after 2020, when the Democrats may have the power to impose them.

Increasingly the great Trump triumph of 2016 is looking more and more of a pyrrhic victory. With more Democrats in the 116th Congress than 34 other states combined, California, not Indiana or Ohio, is becoming the country’s premier political center. Our “model” of a one-party progressive dictatorship, built on an odd coalition of the rich and poor, is inexorably moving beyond the Sierras and into the rest of the country.

This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

Cross-posted at New Geography

 

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