Political Parties and Constitutional Fidelity
60 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2019
Date Written: 2018
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, few themes have received more attention from scholars and public commentators than political polarization. However, given the recent focus on tension and conflict in contemporary American society, the present also seems an especially appropriate moment to investigate those fundamental structures that have successfully worked in the opposite direction to bind and stabilize the American polity. The goal of this paper is precisely this task, and to emphasize the centrality of one particular structure that has played such a stabilizing function: the political parties. Parties are often invoked in discussions of political polarization. However, I focus on the significant role of political parties in articulating narratives of affiliation that effectively bind disparate social groups together into cohesive political coalitions, and that encourage popular fidelity to the overarching constitutional system. In doing so, I connect recent scholarship on the role of political parties in our constitutional system with a very extensive literature in constitutional law focused on themes of fidelity and popular commitment to the Constitution.
This paper seeks to demonstrate four primary points: first, I will identify some core themes of Jacksonian Democratic and Whig party ideology — especially with respect to their views on the economy and the composition of American society. Second, I will illustrate how those themes have remained prominent facets of modern-day Democratic and Republican party ideologies since at least the early 1990s. Third, building upon this prior discussion, I will provide a more systematic mapping of Jacksonian Era concepts onto present-day party politics in Part V. I will also offer some speculation on how present-day party ideologies may evolve and intersect with some of the most contentious constitutional legal questions confronting the polity, including each party’s views on certain individual rights and on the proper role of the federal judiciary. Ultimately, I hope to offer some clarity on how party narratives may evolve from the present context of the Trump presidency. Finally, I will address narratives of party affiliation from a more normative-legal perspective. Specifically, I will articulate and defend the use of a certain type of narrative of constitutional fidelity — rooted in contemporary legal theory and the work of Jack Balkin, but oriented more empathically toward party politics — that may have broad appeal in contemporary American politics: namely, a narrative of redemption.
Keywords: constitutional fidelity, political parties, election of 2016, Jacksonians, Whigs, constitutional redemption
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