Most Conservatives will insist that the American political spectrum has shifted rapidly to the Left over the past fifty years and will make the case by appealing to cultural standards which (admittedly in some respects) have moved away from conservative ideals.
Certainly in terms of fornication, sodomy, divorce, and things of that nature the culture has largely shifted away from conservative values and toward a more libertine ethic. Feminism and economics have played significant roles in this and it is at this point that many conservatives are more than a little self deceived. Many if not most have embraced feminism at least to some degree and the vast majority of their numbers have never properly reckoned with or even recognised the role Capitalism plays in terms of personal and societal ethics. Conservatism ostensibly relies on traditional values and mores and yet Capitalism is on a practical level far more likely to turn to utilitarian and market-driven arguments in order to shape its ethics and this has played no small part in the conspicuous cultural shift. And yet, they still defend the system even though in many respects it is the libertarian form of capitalism that has contributed to the social shift away from conservative values.
Money is not neutral and contrary to the assertions of many so-called Christian financial teachers, the Scriptures never treat it as such. It is inexcusable that so many Christians have been deceived on this point. A serious investigation of Evangelical finances (if possible) would reveal a darker tale – one of deep corruption as many pulpits, media ministries and the like have been influenced by Wall Street money to promote a certain line – and yet it isn't the Christian one.
It also might be pointed out that in some respects today's conservatives aren't always all that conservative. As mentioned, feminism has been embraced, wealth has bred no small degree of decadence, and libertarian ideology has crept in. Today's conservatives are often more Right-wing than actual social and cultural conservatives. They are not the same thing. The rise and ethos of Trumpism can also be appealed to as an example of this. There was nothing particularly conservative about either him or his movement. A person of low moral character, multiple divorces, a flamboyant lifestyle, a demeanor and rhetorical style in defiance of decorum and decency – Trump is Right-wing and appeals to the Right but that's something different than being conservative – a point many seem to have lost.*
The Republican Party has shifted far to the Right and in rapid fashion. Nixon, Reagan and men of that generation wouldn't even be viable in today's party. And over the past ten years the shift has accelerated. Once far right 'Tea Party' figures within the party such as Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan were effectively driven out and rapidly – within only a decade or so. The party has a mythology about its place in and connection with history, but it doesn't much the present reality.
Haven't the Democrats moved just as far to the Left? Again, in terms of personal sexual morality they have embraced a Left-Libertarian ethic that is far to the Left of previous generations. And admittedly they are increasingly turning to an authoritarian posture in their enforcement of it – which is a contradictory position. Don't look for logic or consistency in human behaviour but especially in politics. However, in other respects (and in the broad sense) they too have moved to the Right.
The Democrats were once highly sceptical of Big Money, of Wall Street and of the big, powerful and potentially authoritarian institutions within the US government. There was a populist man-on-the-street ethos which in the South resonated with the bitter disenfranchised ethos of the post-Confederacy and the downtrodden South vis-à-vis the powerful interests of Washington and the industrial North. In the North this ethos was found (in a very different way) among the urban immigrant populations that (like the poor Democratic farmers in the South), were poor factory workers and also disenfranchised apart from their unions and in some cases their churches. Both groups (North and South) while widely divergent and in many ways opposed to each other, could find common cause in opposing the monied industrial interests that controlled the US system and sat astride all the institutions of the Establishment.
As such there was a scepticism within the Democratic Party that only grew in the post-war period. The post-Watergate investigations and revelations created a culture within the Democratic Party and much of American society that was highly distrustful of institutions like the FBI and CIA. This scepticism was palpable in the movies, television shows, and literature of the period. There were attempts to temper this, but even pro-institutional shows and movies were forced to turn to anti-hero characters such as Dirty Harry, Kojak and the like to defend the system.
This continued even into the post-Cold War period and is best evidenced by the anti-government cynicism of shows like The X-Files.
The Clinton era might have provided some respite for this scepticism – for a time. Many Baby Boomers were optimistic that one of their own had come to power and would shake things up and yet over the course of his term it was revealed that the liberal ideals he supposedly brought to the White House turned out to be rather pragmatic in their application. Clinton all but admitted that by the 1990's the Democrats had shifted to the Right and in an earlier generation would have been considered 'Eisenhower Republicans' in terms of their economic policies.
The Culture War inspired Republicans for their part shifted to the Right, and scoring their huge victory in 1994, embraced the once-fringish ideals of Barry Goldwater – leaving the policies of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford in the dust. By the early 2000's, even Reagan (who was by then being mythologised) would have been on the Left-ward edge of the party's spectrum.
Democratic and even mainstream scepticism of institutions continued into this period as seen in the Bourne reboot movies – and yet in the post 9/11 world, both the ideology of the Bourne films and franchises like the X-Files would fade away and die.**
In the face of these cultural changes, the Democrats increasingly embraced mainstream institutions. The once despised and criminal CIA was now a bulwark that had been corrupted by the Bush administration. Under the threat of terrorism, the FBI (once Hoover's anti-democratic house of corruption) became a defender of the order and a guardian of society.
In the hands of Obama, these organisations grew in stature and a great reversal took place. Today, the Republican Party which once was the most stalwart defender of these Old Boy WASP-ish institutions has now become sceptical. The GOP has moved so far to the Right and so far into the Libertarian sphere it has become sceptical of such large and overbearing organisations and their huge influence and imprint on society.***
Meanwhile the DNC has become the Establishment and now finds itself in alliance with these structures.
The Democrats couldn't have done this if it were not for the Clintonian shift in which other institutions were embraced such as the Pentagon and more than ever – Wall Street. This became even more obvious during the tenure of Hillary Clinton, both in the Senate and as Secretary of State – let alone during her two presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016.
Yes, the Democrats have enshrined abortion and embraced sodomy (as has much of the culture) but on a more practical and far reaching level they have shifted far to the Right in their embrace the empire. They are in full support of the Military Industrial Complex and its wars (especially if packaged in humanitarian terms). The new Biden administration is already rekindling this narrative.
The older members of the party may listen to Neil Young sing about 'Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming - four dead in Ohio' and John Fogerty belting out tunes about Vietnam and yet today's DNC is effectively the old party of Nixon, Ford, and Rockefeller – the old GOP of a generation ago. The Democrats have shifted to the Right and the old 'Country Club' Republican-types are now on the right-ward edge of the DNC sphere.
The GOP has largely moved beyond the social consensus to the Far Right so that again old figures – even the party's old fringe-Right members Goldwater and Reagan would now be on the Leftward edge of the party, along with other social conservatives of the old order.
There are many now inside the consensus, who would have once been beyond the pale, beyond the fringe – the Far Right world of ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists. They are now (through Trumpism) solidly within the GOP's consensus. Many old-time conservatives still affiliated with the GOP seem to be unaware of this shift and remain blind to what Trumpism actually is and what is represents. This has also played a part in the confusion surrounding the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol Building – and just who those people were. They were Trumpites but many in the Republican Party seem and remain unaware of who and what kind of elements they have allied with.
The old DNC centre of a generation ago, the old liberals of the FDR type are now the party's Far Left and in some cases have even fallen off the spectrum altogether. Bernie Sanders (who laughably calls himself a socialist) is at best an old FDR-style democrat. There isn't actually a socialist bone in his body. He's a leftist but there is a considerable gulf between his reformist (and still nationalist) views and that of genuine revolutionary internationalist socialism.
Within the DNC, many one-time centrists have moved to the Right in terms of their politics, their views of Wall Street, and certainly in their views of the CIA, FBI, Pentagon, and other government institutions. This phenomenon was already being discussed in the 1980's – it was a theme on many television shows and yet the process seriously began to accelerate in the 1990's and crossed the Rubicon (as it were) in the aftermath of 9/11.
As many have noted, even many of the Neo-Conservatives once associated with Bush have moved into the Democratic sphere. This is not because they've made a Left-ward turn as some have suggested. On the contrary the GOP has shifted to the Right and has left them behind and the DNC (in shifting to the Right) has made a place for them on the Right-ward fringe of the party's consensus.
What about the so-called 'Far Left' – the advocates of identity politics and extreme environmental policy? While the Right hypes these people as if they are the dominant force within the DNC and an existential threat to the status quo – in reality they're on the party's fringe. Ocasio-Cortez, and even figures like Elizabeth Warren wield little power in the party and are pretty much despised by the DNC Establishment. And Sanders (corrupt fool that he is) does little apart from steer these elements back into the mainstream DNC. They are condescended to, used, and patronised – but largely ignored. The more extreme elements have fallen out of the circle entirely or at least been marginalised. This is seen with some journalists, and even to a degree with figures like Howard Dean, and Russ Feingold who failed to properly back the post-9/11 security policies or continued to aggressively push for anti-Wall Street measures such as universal single-payer health care. Other Democrats who once represented the working class, were pro-union, and yet were moderately conservative on social issues have largely disappeared. Those that have survived in the DNC have shifted along with it (such as Biden) and others have abandoned it altogether and eventually found their home in the Republican Party – particularly in the working class populism of Trump.
The true members of the Far Left are either on the DNC's fringe or like the Far Right extremists in reference to the GOP – out of the circle entirely.
The Trumpite GOP has embraced the scepticism of the anti-Establishment but on a basis quite different than the old but no longer existing scepticism of the DNC. The old scepticism of the Left finds it home in the Green Party and in alternative media outlets that today's Democratic Party consider threatening and given to conspiracy. They're often dismissively referred to as dupes for Putin, Trump, and the like because they have continued to question the Russiagate narrative.
Rather than understand the political division in the country as one of a radical Left-Right divide, a more accurate assessment reveals that both parties have shifted to the Right, while in many respects conservatism as an ethos which translates into cultural mores – is largely dead and has been dying for decades. It's a casualty of empire and the wealth and power it brings. The same thing happened in the late Roman Republic.
Limbaugh, Hannity, Levine, Beck, Palin, Trump, Cruz et al. – these are Right-wing figures. They're not conservatives. They're not old fashioned or traditionalist in their values, nor in the lives and lifestyles they lead.
The party of Goldwater, William Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Robert Taft is dead and the old heartland farmer values of William Jennings Bryan and other conservative populists of old – is dead and buried.
What we have today is a Centre-Right party (the DNC) and a Far Right party (the GOP). And given that as Christians we can neither support any form of Right-wing politics nor any political order which is rooted in Enlightenment Classical Liberalism – we have no stake or interest in the US political order. We oppose it and yet we do not resist it.
And yet as is well known Evangelical Christian leaders in the United States have thrown in with one faction and (having all but sold their souls) are effectively harnessed to it – and so as it has migrated to the Right, they too have become more extreme and spiritually dangerous in their views. Their apostasy from New Testament doctrine and ethics has become more pronounced leaving the faithful in desperate straits.
We would do well to understand what has happened, what has brought things to this point – and where it's all going.
*The same phenomenon took place in the aftermath of WWI and the rise of fascism. Leaders like Mussolini and Hitler were Right-wing and in some respects useful to conservatives and yet at the same time, their governing principles (Enlightenment über-nationalism in the industrial context) were in many ways at odds with the old conservative orders. Franco was probably the most conservative fascist and thus he received praise and after World War II, support from the West. Though a dictator and thus subjugator of the monarchy, he was nevertheless always a favourite within Rome.
**Not a few commentators have juxtaposed television shows like '24' and 'The West Wing' with The X-Files in order to demonstrate the cultural shift. And many have talked about the role of 9/11 in killing the cultural moment that had produced a show rooted in scepticism of government.
*** Even while they wave their flags and speak of 'love of nation' they decry any form of 'collectivism' – clearly demonstrating they don't understand the concept or what is required for a society to function at even the most basic level.