I’d hate to pontificate, so instead an old chestnut from a simpler, bloodier time is in order. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That house, as it was then, is the United States. Civil war no longer greets us here, but the climate feels somewhat similar, if something in the old history books bears truth. It seems that elections are a form of parlor game, so the only mention of this week’s will go in the way of instrumental, passing remarks that — without resort to cynicism — illustrate the larger state in which I think we’ve become entrapped. Tuesday should give Americans pause for hope, as it does represent a small step forward, or at least a step backward from the abyss. The ideological chasms must be bridged and we have to stop putting the worst of our nature into our politics.
In some circles a pundit or two observed that a Senate split right down the middle, with the Vice President enabled to cast the tie-breaking vote, was a possibility. Currently at about 52 percent, the House (as was expected) has a slight majority for the opposition party. Either way, the dominant party can plausibly claim victory. The President can veto whatever he likes and, regardless, can resort to a signing statement that absolves him of enforcing any law as he has done hundreds of times before. It took the collosal failure of their policy, and not much else, to propel the former minority back into the lower chamber. Victory is also to be credited to the entrenched system of patronage and gerrymandering, which may have held off much of the popular will.
Andrea Cukor, in a letter printed in the Times, says that the American people have “got to stop the political tribalism that has taken over the democratic process of our Republic!” It is indeed something to exclaim and proclaim, but unlike her I wouldn’t understate it. That tribal mentality, which appeals only to emotion and superficially-important matters, is tearing apart our nation. A political science professor explained in my freshman year that we are headed in a “fascist” direction, with the focus less on governing the country and more on electioneering that toys with the citizenry on the bases of “fear, anger and division,” to borrow the characterization of the supposed Newspaper of Record last week. I hope the professor’s prediction is wrong, but it looks like we have not had a government for some time now and will not have one regardless of what happened this week.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday that our “political structure … seems impervious to big partisan swings — thanks to a 50/50 electorate, the advantages of incumbency and the scarcity of competitive congressional districts.” In October, econopolitical analyst Paul Krugman wondered whether the oppositional “wave” — however great — could actually “overtop the levee” that the dominant party has built, given that “in close elections many Democratic votes … simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the G.O.P. to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts.” Roll Call opinionator Morton Kondracke agreed, writing on Nov. 2 that the vote was shaping up to be “tempered by some Republican structural advantages.”
National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru commented back in September that a loss for the then reigning partisans could be a net gain. “Freed from the obligation of cobbling together thin majorities for watered-down legislation,” Ponnuru wrote, “Republicans would be able to stand for something attractive.” That is preferable to the mess of things with which Americans have been surrounded. Upon seizing the mantle again, the Democrats’ “left-leaning ‘net-roots’ may grow more enraged still,” as the newly ascendant party “would … have the illusion of power without its reality.” These musings reflect on the longer-term picture, in which it can soon enough be claimed that nothing is going to get done and the corrosive polarization will maybe intensify.
The party that lost its dominance, at least its majority by narrow margins, has appeared to be riven over tactical disagreements about how to most effectively secure our rapidly fading hegemon status. However, the party that just ascended to power, more of a splinter association than anything else, lacks an overarching vision or strategy. This is a problem if Americans want their representatives to roll back the damage wrought to our country, in all of the anti-constitutional and anti-republican forms inflicted. There are no guarantees, nor do any quick fixes pretend to appear; whatever does unfold holds some confident measure of promise. That hope, however, is not up to the political system that has wholly failed the people for whom it purports to speak and, more absurdly, to lead.