As everyone can see, the world has undoubtedly changed in the past year or so.
From the Trump victory to Brexit to the resilience of right-wing parties in Europe, there remains a certain level of chaos in the world order.
There seems to be an aura of the past which we will never regain, for better or worse.
A space in time so close in a textbook but eons away from the society we inhabit today.
These sweeping changes to the status quo leave many of us asking, what’s next?
Lying ahead there must be some fundamental shift away from the political alignment of years past; a transformation that will reset our society after the obliteration of previous norms.
I’m not going to pretend that I know what type of realignment we can expect, nor am I advocating for any or all of those below.
Nonetheless, here are a few which I see, at least partially, as possible.
The first is the battle between big government and small government.
After a fiery American election cycle and two hotly contested primary challenges, the Democratic and Republican parties have taken a beating.
With civil strife bludgeoning both establishments we may see a revolt against the major parties and a new system of simple ideological differences emerging- not the traditional party labels being the great divide.
The new reality could be a more principled approach to worldviews instead of the patchwork we see in the main parties today.
A poll conducted in May of 2016 shows that only 13% Americans surveyed believe the two party system works, and 38% say it is “seriously broken”.
One would imagine a rise in those who consider themselves Independents would be in order if that many seem fed up with the current system.
On the contrary, according to Gallup poll results which accumulated over the course of 2016, registration among Independents is at a six-year low.
To further complicate this entanglement between and within both parties, Republicans and Democrats see this divide in vastly different ways, according to Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins who describe their investigation into this question in their book Asymmetric Politics: Ideology Republicans and Group Interest Democrats.
They wrote about their theory in the Washington Post:
“…the Republican Party defines itself in ideological terms as the vehicle of symbolic conservatism. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is organized as a social group coalition”.
However, their research finds that even Republican voters who consider themselves as having strong conservative principles depart from such “orthodoxy” on specific policy questions.
A more obvious example of this is in their support for then-candidate Donald Trump, someone who strays from ideological consistency much of the time.
For me, I see no clear direction for the conventional two-party system except to continue on in the confusing and muddied path it’s on now.
To suggest that an ideological realignment is likely to occur here, at least in American politics, would be inappropriate at this time.
The next is the continuation of the divide between the elites and everyone else.
In Europe and in America, disenchantment and the desire to throw out those in power are moving full speed ahead.
Concerns over immigration, political correctness, cultural ambiguity, and long-term economic prosperity are major factors in this anti-establishment wave the western world is currently riding.
People, on a large scale, no longer believe those in charge are inherently better at their jobs than people from completely outside of that system.
In comes the torch to burn it all down: voting.
This would be a different conversation if the United Kingdom had remained in the European Union and both candidacies of Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had inevitably failed.
That would have put a scare into the old order but their influence would have braved the storm.
But they didn’t.
The anti-establishment movement has gained real power.
It could fail miserably, or it could provide the footing for this anger to wipe out every remaining piece of the old system for the near future.
Insert the electoral chances of right-wing parties in France, Germany, and the Netherlands — to name a few — and Europe then makes the Trump revolution look like a dress rehearsal.
Now, elections could forever be won by who we think hates the elite most, not policy differences.
We may, as many of us already do, watch press briefings and tally not the legislation being announced but the number of coded messages sent to the holders of power in Washington, New York, Brussels, and Paris.
A candidate’s success may be determined by how many CEOs, seasoned politicians, TV anchors, and university professors are forced to face those who feel forgotten on bended knee. Those isolated and cold from globalization in the Bible Belt, Rust Belt, and Stoke-on-Trent.
Recent events have shown us just how disconnected these people are.
They all told us none of these political movements would get off the ground, and we have seen very few self-reflections once they all realized they had been fooled by the very people they were supposed to understand.
As a 21-year old, this was the first time I saw this strong of a vilification of the politics-as-usual attitude.
These exchanges could be typical every few years as elections and referendums come around.
But for me, I can’t imagine these frustrations going away.
The battle lines may have forever been redrawn.
The final is the chasm between multiculturalism and assimilation.
This is the most politically charged of the realignments I see possible.
Multiculturalism is the existence and preservation of distinct cultures within a community or society-at-large.
Assimilation, on the other hand, is the adaptation and conforming of different groups into a unified culture in a given community.
As different groups have become scrambled together in the modern world, people are trying to decide which of these they believe is best for society.
An interesting phenomenon I noticed through the election cycle was the proud flying of other nation’s flags on the streets of America.
If you were to watch a nominal protest of then-candidate Donald Trump you would have seen Mexican flags next to Cuban flags slightly behind Palestinian flags, all whose holders desire a more multicultural society.
Many view this as a beautiful sign of toleration.
However, many others view this as one more stratification of American society.
Instead of coalescing under one banner, we all have different ones that make us take yet another step away from our neighbors.
The situation in Europe is slightly different than the one in America.
As a steady flow of migrants and asylum seekers from terror-stricken, war-torn areas of Africa and the Middle East have continued throughout 2016, this question revolves around the rapid changes to European culture and identity.
As the majority of refugees flee Muslim-majority nations, some European governments have welcomed them.
However, many Europeans are pessimistic about these changes.
Pew Research can help us understand this.
In a survey of 9 out of 10 European nations, at least half of individuals believe that Muslims want to maintain a “distinct” culture and not integrate into the customs of their new European communities.
A separate report shows that a majority of Europeans surveyed believe refugees increase the likelihood of terrorism, and no more than 4 out of 10 citizens in any EU country feel an increase in diversity is good for their country, compared to 58% of Americans who think diversity makes the U.S. a better place to live.
In Greece and Italy, a majority of citizens feel more diversity makes their country worse off.
Issues such as gender equality, acceptance of homosexuality, and secularism are a few instances where the two cultures just do not see eye to eye.
Right-wing European parties have become the vehicle for these frustrations.
Marine Le Pen, the head of the French National Front Party, is leading in the polls (as of the time of my writing this) to win the first round of the French Presidential race.
She also has more support from those aged 18-34 than any other candidate in France, which may come as a surprise to many.
The central issues which run through these populist, right-wing parties are immigration and a distaste for international agreements that reduce national sovereignty.
Many are calling for a total shutdown of Muslim immigration, something that an average of 55% of Europeans surveyed agree with, and making a Brexit-like move from the EU or other foreign obligations.
The multicultural attitude Europe is known for is being challenged strongly on many fronts.
As popular movements are seemingly rejecting the openness the continent has historically praised, the concept of assimilation seems to be a dire turn many are hoping to see.
As hordes of people around the globe chant for multiculturalism, for the elimination of border walls and even, in some cases, for the abolition of sovereign states completely, there is a powerful camp that believes different cultural groups living together is an ideal scenario.
On the other hand, there are millions of individuals who see a lack of a unified culture as a ticking-time bomb for social strife. People who feel the palpable modifications to their culture too large of a pill to swallow.
This possible realignment would be ugly, it would be a knock-down drag-out brawl of the most nativist sort, but it is undoubtedly an element that drove many to the polls in recent history.
In the end, no one really knows what will arise from this grinder the western political system has been thrown in.
Anyone that suggests they know for a certainty should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.
The possibilities I have just laid out are merely avenues our society may take as we move forward.
And only one thing is certain, whether we like it or not- we will experience this together.
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Cover Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)