Political Postmortem and Forecast

Like many of us, I read some articles analyzing the recent election. None of them were very surprising. It was noted that, of the one-third of the electorate who voted, many were angry, scared old white people who don’t mirror the electorate as a whole and especially dislike our first black President; our midterm elections favor Republicans, and the electoral map was especially bad for Democrats this year; Americans insist on reelecting their own Senators and Representatives even though they hate Congress as a whole; the average voter is quite ignorant; negative advertising works; and 2016 will be better.

Of the articles I read, I thought this analysis by Andrew O’Hehir was worth sharing. It’s called “Democracy on the critical list: How do we escape this toxic political cycle?” After some painfully entertaining discussion of the election, O’Hehir concludes that “the upshot of all this is that nothing got done in the last Congress and nothing will get done in the next one, but this time the nothing will be a lot scarier to watch”.

He then asks:

Is there any plausible way out of this obsessive, recursive cycle, in which we can expect to see President Clinton 2.0 take office in January of 2017 with a feeble and ineffective Democratic majority, only to be punished for her feminist acts of treason by the resurgent angry white men in 2018, and so on, ad nauseam?

He considers four scenarios:

First, a charismatic, transformational leader will come along who can bring us together, much like some Democrats (apparently including Barack Obama himself) believed President Obama would do. You may remember this scenario from The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which the transformational leader came from another world.

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Second, the opposition will see the error of its ways and realize the other side was right all along. This is even less likely than scenario #1.

Third, our changing population will move our politics to the left. O’Hehir recognizes that American society is changing, but isn’t convinced our politics will change as a result. As more Hispanics do better economically, for example, they may move to the right. The same thing may happen with today’s younger voters as they grow older. (Personally, I wouldn’t rule this out. Politics tends to run in cycles and there may yet be a progressive reaction to the Age of Reagan.)

Fourth, some cataclysm will lead to the current system collapsing, leading to martial law, mass incarceration, revolution and so on. I think he’s joking when he mentions Senator Ted Cruz losing the Presidency and getting the South to secede. He also considers natural disasters and financial collapse. (One possibility he doesn’t mention is a really bad virus, like the one Obama was supposed to do something about. Its name eludes me.)

Instead of any of these alternatives, O’Hehir thinks it’s more likely that our democracy will simply fade away, as “tiny cadres of the ultra-rich squabble over control of the economy, [while] electoral politics is angrily contested over a narrow but contentious range of lifestyle issues, [driving] away all but the most committed culture warriors on either side….In due course the political stalemate between Republicans and Democrats stops mattering, stops existing and is gone with the wind”.

It’s hard to be optimistic about America’s future. O’Hehir certainly isn’t. The only answer I see is that more people have to start caring enough to pay attention to politics and actually vote. The system still allows for the government to represent the majority of Americans, but only if the majority of Americans wisely choose who their representatives will be.