Automation, and the Future of the Republican Party

An article in the National Review criticizes the new populist nationalism among Trumpists – the populism that favors protectionism over free markets, opposition to libertarian worship of markets, and criticism of traditional Republican support for legal immigration. Whether or not Trump has actually fulfilled his populist economic promises – he passed an immense tax cut for the wealthy, but also has the guts to wage a trade war with China – is another matter. But when Tucker Carlson, a leading “conservative” TV pundit, praises Elizabeth Warren’s economic plan, it’s a sign that something is amiss on the right.

There is a divide in the GOP – Mitch McConnell, a man arguably more powerful than President Trump, claimed that “nobody wins a trade war”. The libertarian, free marketeering Koch Brothers – who’ve supported the Republicans for decades – pledged to not back Trump’s re-election campaign. Yet, Trump remains a wildly popular figure in the Republican party – somewhere around 85% of Republicans support him. It is highly unlikely that President Trump faces any real challenge in winning the Republican primary. 2024, however, will be a completely different story – and will feature a primary which could tear the GOP in half.

The 2024 Republican primary will feature the attempts of the neoliberal front to retake the GOP from an angered populist insurgency. By 2024, it is likely that the current GOP base – the white working class – begins to feel severe stress due to the threat of automation of jobs. Self-driving trucks are already on the road. According to a recent McKinsey report, the retail industry – which employs millions – is ripe for automation, and assessments of modern grocery stores show that proper automation strategies can cut hours by 55-65%. The politics of the next decade are likely to be dramatically impacted by this trend, especially as most of the 2020 democrats (save for Andrew Yang) do not seem to be paying much attention to the automation question. 

What will this do to the GOP? An angered white working class, unsatisfied with corporations automating away millions of jobs, as well as the general American transition into a service sector economy, may elect a technological conservative – for example, Tucker Carlson wants to ban self-driving trucks, and it’s easy to see displaced truck drivers supporting such a policy. Corporate Republicans will do anything in their power to stop such a candidate, and the end result may be a new American party system – one not marked between left and right, but between blue-collar and white-collar. 

The transition to automation in work, as well as the rise of populism on the right, poses a major challenge to the GOP, and may fundamentally reshape American politics and culture. The “working man” of the 20th century was a factory laborer in Detroit, who made enough money to support a middle class life for his wife and two kids. This is no longer the case, and as the tide of automation further cuts into the working class, we will increasingly see divides on economic lines. Competent, technical, data-driven governance could address some of the automation-based problems. But if nothing is done about automation, American politics will be headed into completely uncharted territory. 

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