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It’s a common claim among the Left that the Internet is the main force at work in modern politics. That the Internet is a vast reservoir of the most authentic information and ideas. That millions and millions of people have access to the most amazing data and knowledge at their fingertips. So of course it will play a huge role in the new politics of 2018. That there is no doubt it will.
And yet, for all their claims as to the power of the Internet, the Internet isn’t responsible for driving any sort of real populist uprising.
The Internet didn’t do the Republican Party anything that they didn’t already do themselves. For decades, America’s party system has been dominated by a small but dedicated group of wealthy people, mostly white, men, and, by conservative estimate, over 80% white. They are the “old guard” of the GOP; they make up the vast majority of key legislators in both the House and Senate.
But the Republican Party’s most popular figures, like the late Speaker John Boehner, are not what many of us would call a wealthy oligarchs. They’re often viewed as the “regulars,” though that is a misleading term. They tend not to own fortunes in the tens of millions, and they tend to be in some way connected to a broader political community, like teachers or policemen. Yet those connections make up the vast majority of their political power.
The Republican Party used to be dominated by moneyed elites before the Internet. But since the Republican Party had no real constituency outside itself, it was limited in how it could change the system and the system itself. But now the Party is in the midst of an existential threat from populism; as much as it can, the GOP should be listening to populist impulses that it doesn’t want to hear, and should be building policies that are more “progressive” on issues like gay rights and immigration.
The main thrust of the Republican Party is to oppose economic and social policy that is seen as a threat to money and status: healthcare reform; environmental protection; minimum wage; labor market reforms. And if that’s not a challenge, I don’t know what is.
But there’s a problem. The Tea Party, which is the most extreme Republican faction, has no constituency of its own. The GOP’s political establishment sees no way to reach out in a meaningful way the most vulnerable and forgotten
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