In their 1882 comic opera "Iolanthe," W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan ridiculed the British political system. One aria (as sung by the character Private Willis) notes that children tend to inherit their parents' party affiliation:
I often think it's comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
America, too, has a basically two-party system.
But our political parties have changed so much that the party we inherited may no longer promote the values we hold dear. In the area of civil rights, among other important things, there has been a near reversal of Republican and Democratic positions.
The Republican Party emerged from the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War.
After that war, Republicans outlawed slavery and tried to incorporate the former slaves into the American political and economic systems. The Democratic Party resisted "Reconstruction," finally forcing an end to Republican efforts to protect the freed slaves.
Democrats then took power in the former Confederate states.
Southern Democrats supported segregation. They enacted discriminatory legislation regulating voting and failed to prosecute murderous Ku Klux Klan terrorism against minority people who tried to vote.
Their racist policies were supported by large white majorities in those states.
Black Americans, reasonably enough, largely supported the Republican Party until well into the 20th century.
After decades of hesitant gradual change, by the 1960s the Democratic administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson actively pushed for civil rights legislation.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were also supported by the liberal wing of the Republican party.
But southern Democrats were so disgusted at their own predominantly liberal party that they began bailing out and becoming Republicans.
This made the Republican party more conservative and the remaining Democrats more liberal, paving the way to today's extreme polarization.
Thus the two parties' positions on civil rights have now been completely reversed. The formerly "solid" Democratic South is now largely controlled by Republicans.
A Supreme Court majority appointed by Republican presidents has gutted the Voting Rights Act. Black voters now overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.
The Supreme Court recently refused to uphold the right of former felons —disproportionately racial minorities — to vote in Florida. This right, established by a bipartisan majority of voters in a state referendum, had been sabotaged by the Republican- controlled Florida legislature.
Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted voter I.D. laws, ostensibly to prevent fraud, but carefully drafted to ensure Republican victories by holding down minority voting.
The changes in the parties' positions on racial matters happened gradually. But the recent changes in economic and foreign policy were abrupt. After the hostile takeover of the Republican Party by Donald Trump in 2016, a party which had favored free markets and free trade suddenly found itself supporting higher tariffs on imports.
A party which had preached financial prudence and balanced budgets enacted tax reductions producing record peacetime deficits, even before the additional deficits required to cope with COVID-19. A party which had supported strong international alliances began questioning their value and quarreling with allies.
Since the Great Depression, the Democratic Party had billed itself as the defender of average working people. But more recently it moved towards policies favoring highly educated people and the coastal elites.
The new Democrats tended to sneer at people living in "flyover" territory, who have not taken well to policies forced on the country by justices purporting to interpret the Constitution. (Joe Biden, though, is trying to move the party back towards its pro-labor traditions.)
Given the major changes in both political parties and the urgent need to improve race relations in the United States, members of minorities are not the only people who might want to reconsider their support for the party they inherited.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan oregon, and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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