It's always easy to confuse the most-recent election as they most important and a bellwether for the next big thing in politics. And there's no question the the GOP has a ton of momentum after winning a majority in the Senate and making gains in the House of Representatives and state houses and legislatures around the country.
But the long-term trends strongly suggest that this recent uptick in the GOP's favor is only a temporary reprieve in the long, slow decline of both parties. Voter identification with both Democrats and Republicans is way down from a few decades ago and political independents are on the rise. That's especially true among voters below the age of 30. What's going on?
The short version is that political, cultural, and even economic power has been decentralizing and unraveling for a long time. Whether you like it or not, The Libertarian Moment is here, a technologically driven individualization of experience and a breakdown of the large institutions—governments, corporations, churches, you name it—that used to govern and structure our lives. The result is that top-down systems, whether public or private, right wing or left wing, have less and less ability to organize our lives. That's true whether you're talking about the workplace, the bedroom, or the bar down the street (that may now be serving legal pot). This is mostly good, though it's also profoundly disruptive too.
That's from my Daily Beast column. For all sorts of reasons, we'll always have two major parties in America, but what they stand for can and does change on a regular basis. Neither party enjoys anything close to majority (or even plurality) support from most Americans. They're going to have change their frameworks and fast if they want to flourish.
In a world where you can personalize and individualize your online experience, your clothing, your work situation, even your sexuality, why would anyone join up for ossified, rigid, centuries-old groups such as the Democrats or Republicans? "The Repulican brand sucks," Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said recently of his own party, which he compared to Domino's Pizza. If the Republicans are Domino's, then the Democrats are Pizza Hut. Neither is appealing in a world of easy-to-find gourmet fare.
And that's why the future of politics and policy doesn't belong to doctrinaire Democrats or Republicans who want to control large swaths of everyday life. It belongs ultimately to the libertarian decentralists such as Paul who not only understand what is happening to America but are growing comfortable with it. Americans are increasingly wary of government's power, and they don't want it to teach a single set of morals either. Everything is proliferating and people just want a government that will keep people from starving on the streets and get out of the way as they go to the corner pot shop to buy edibles to take to their friends' gay wedding celebrated by ministers who are not forced to do so.
Politicians and parties who champion policies that embrace economic and social decentralization will own the future, even as they wield less power by letting people discover how they actually want to live. Whoever wins tonight would do well to remember that. Because if they don't, they'll be losers again, and sooner than you think.