Progressives, conservatives, independents, libertarians, the disgustedly disengaged: whatever your political affiliation, you need to stop waiting for a Presidential (or Congressional) election to bring you closure. The day after, everyone you hate and fear politically is right here, just waiting to vote again.
I’ve listened to liberals confidently predicting that the demographic base of American conservatism is right at the edge of crumbling. Next time or next time or next time, they say, it’ll be safe at last to believe in sane health care policy, the extension of rights to gays and lesbians, meaningful regulation of crony capitalism, strong environmental protections, and so on. I’ve read conservatives confidently predicting that liberals are only one major defeat away from moving to Europe or retreating into their walled communities–or worse yet, more extreme conservatives fantasizing that the next victory will give them the power to forcibly repress an opposition that they view as seditious and illegitimate. The disengaged dreamed last time that they’d see a new politics full of meaning and substance: they might believe it again from someone else.
The foundations of American political division at this point are deep and abiding enough than nothing like an election every four years is going to move them much. Nothing that any President does or could do, any Congress, will shift those foundations much, though some politicians have and will continue to make them even stronger and more immobile. No policy, no law, will change the math that will make most elections hard-fought, ill-felt and close.
It’s hardly surprising that there should be so many fantasies, some light and sardonic, some ugly and sincere, of hard overrule by one faction over the other. Because the only way out is through one of two gates: a bare, fragile majority (or a large plurality that locks in an advantage in the Rube Goldberg machine of American politics) forces itself on the communities and people who reject it, or we work out some kind of renewed social contract among a much larger center, to hold strongly together as a people and a nation. The latter doesn’t seem to interest much of anyone at the moment. The current incumbent, as I see it, made some pretty earnest attempts to move that direction and got little but scorn and disregard for it–some of which I’ve joined in because there’s no point to sitting down to strike a bargain with someone who has no intention to strike one. Sometimes you only get to a peace because enough people come to see the costs of war without end–the hard way. In any event, it’s not up to Presidents or four-year election cycles to accomplish that work–either a new covenant or a slow-motion civil war. It’s up to us.