In the nightmare of the dark, all the dogs of Europe bark. Or throw ice cream at each other, as the case may be.
Difficult as it may be to sympathize with the Farages and Salvinis and Weidels of the world, it is even harder to find anything good to say about the leaders of Europe's established political parties, who have responded to the great crises of the last decade — the financial collapse of 2007-8 and the surge in migration from the Middle East and North Africa — with stolid indifference or worse.
Still, I for one will mourn the final defeat, if it ever comes, of the old European Christian Democratic parties, especially the German CDU. With its origins in the encyclicals of the Leo XIII and other modern popes, Christian Democracy rose from the ashes of Europe with the promise of a third way between the decadence of Anglo-American capitalism and the tyranny of the Soviet Union. Christian Democrats stood for collaboration rather than conflict between social classes, for broad-based, sustainable prosperity without greed, for freedom without gross license, and for the inalienable metaphysical dignity of all people. They came as close as any statesmen could to realizing the dreams of Goethe and Schiller and Cardinal Ottaviani and all the other great humanists and romantics in the modern history of the continent. All coalitions must sooner or later fail. Theirs was a beautiful thing while it lasted.
Unlike those of the European countries that had been either liberated or defeated, the pre-war political parties in the United States continued to exist after 1945. There has never been a proper Christian Democratic party in this country, but once upon a time we did not really need one. The ideals of the movement were to some extent embodied by both of our major parties. Party allegiance was a complicated matter that had more to do with regional and ethnic loyalties than with ideology. There were right-wing Democrats in the South in those days who opposed unionization and civil rights, just as there were liberal Republicans in the Northeast. But in the broad middle there were politicians who believed in a mixed economy and welfare while rejecting the servile state; they were cautiously supportive of the civil rights movement and committed Cold Warriors. It would be anachronistic to refer to them as “social conservatives,” but this is only because what we now think of as mainstream liberal views on abortion and other issues were then the exclusive province of a mostly unheard antinomian minority and would remain so until 1972.
The conditions that made this two-party consensus possible remain very much in place today. Survey after survey shows us that the vast majority of Americans hold views that are best described as socially conservative and economically moderate to progressive. Their viewpoint is also, incidentally, the most underrepresented in American media (its logical and polar opposite, libertarianism, is naturally the most overrepresented). As Thomas Frank and Tucker Carlson have both observed — albeit from radically different angles — there is no logical reason that opponents of infanticide should also be in favor of payday lending or NAFTA.
It is a curious thing then that only now, in the twilight of the movement in Europe, are we seeing anything like an attempt to create a proper vehicle for Christian Democratic principles in the United States. The American Solidarity Party was founded in 2011 as a curious alliance between criminal justice reformers, ecologically minded conservatives, disaffected labor activists, and radical pro-lifers. Its motto is "Common Good, Common Ground, Common Sense." Though it has nominated two presidential candidates and taken part in other elections in states ranging from Californa to New Jersey, Chuck Adams, now serving his second term as the city attorney of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is the only public member of the ASP currently holding political office.
The most striking thing about the platform of the ASP (formerly the "Christian Democratic Party USA") is how un-radical most of it sounds. Why should there not be a socially conservative party that is for a living wage, workplace protections, strong welfare programs, and opposed to the imprudent use of American force abroad? On paper this sounds like a recipe for winning 60 or so percent of the national popular vote.
But the two-party system is an integral part of America's unwritten constitution. Most Americans regard a vote for a third-party candidate as synonymous with staying home on election day. Which is why I think the best strategy for American Christian Democrats is to run for local or state office on the party ticket and later seek to be nominated as either Republicans or Democrats — depending upon which is more electorally advantageous — in national elections. This is exactly what happened with the Democratic Socialists of America in 2018, when two members, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, were elected to the House of Representative as Democrats. So far they have won no legislative victories, but they have captured the attention of both the media and the Democratic grassroots. Having two of its own elected as Democrats has raised the profile of what was already a flourishing minor party.
Americans who are sympathetic to the ASP should recognize the potential for replicating the success of the DSA. They should also take heart in the fact that there already American politicians — John Bel Edwards, the pro-life Democratic governor of Louisiana, and Josh Hawley, the occasionally market-skeptical freshman Republican senator from Missouri — who to varying degrees embody the principles of Christian democracy. Christian Democrats in this country have nothing to lose and the majority of the U.S. electorate to gain.