For American liberals, one way to view American history is long periods of status quo conservatism punctuated by short bursts of progressivism. From this view the most important periods of American politics are as follows:
The finals years of the 18th century when the Federalists won out over the Republicans and created a federal government with the capacity and financial tools to regulate business and enforce civil rights.
The 1860’s when the North fought and won the Civil War, ending slavery. This period lasts through reconstruction when Ulysses Grant and Congress designed society such that black people were granted their freedom and their voting rights through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.
The turn of the century when Theodore Roosevelt invented the modern administrative and regulatory states. This included protecting the environment such that it could be preserved for future generations.
The mid-1930’s to mid-1940’s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought Keynesianism to the United States in response to the Great Depression. Roosevelt expanded health coverage to the poor and made American retirees the richest group of people on the planet.
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960’s that served to combat poverty and ensure civil rights for black Americans. This was also paralleled by a feminist movement that liberated women from traditional roles.
America turns 242 years old this year. These events cover roughly 40 years of its history, or about 16 percent. The other 84 percent of the time has generally been defined by either maintenance of the status quo or conservative movements that try to fight against the gains of the progressive years.
One thing to be noted that links these periods is they are sparked by an event that upends the political world. Whether it’s civil war, economic downturn, or social uprisings, progress doesn’t happen organically. There is always a catalyst.
Thus, America seems ripe for the next progressive movement. First, we haven’t experienced one since Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights movement. This doesn’t seem lost on the country, as Occupy Wall Street and the rise of the Tea Party are both reactions to inequality and a government that is elite and unrepresentative of the people.
Second, Trump is the biggest domestic shock to the system since the Civil Rights era and protests over the Vietnam War. The population writ large isn’t happy. It’s divided between the left who thinks Trump is fascism incarnate come to America and Trump partisans who think a deep state coup to remove him from office if underway at the Justice Department. Very few people are content with the state of the country.
Third, the next President will almost certainly be both a progressive and a populist. This will likely be the case because it’s the antidote to Donald Trump. America is begging for a non-technocrat who offers an agenda of robust social programs. Trump didn’t win because he promised tax cuts for the wealthy. He won because he promised literally the opposite, in addition to investments in healthcare and infrastructure.
Thus, the stage will be set. All the pieces will be in place for the next Democratic President. The party will continue to shift to the left in opposition to Trump, and an angry public will need to be pacified by populist social and economic policies. For the Democratic Party to reestablish itself at all levels of government, the path forward could hardly be more clear.
George Bush was a tremor in the system, with his brazen nods to corporate America and warmongering. This led to Barack Obama, who effectively responded to Bush’s Presidency by righting the ship and expanding social service in a center left fashion.
Donald Trump is an earthquake, and thus his predecessor will be a progressive populist that puts in place the next big progressive burst.