To tweak a fine old Frank Costanza phrase just a little.
Stability in American politics, as has existed since about 1896, has been maintained by a rough equality in popular support between the two major parties. That equality has never slipped very far. During “landslide” election years, what has mattered most was not the party affiliations of America’s politically involved citizens, but a general sense that one party was “underperforming.” That’s why the key phrase of the Eighties was “Reagan Democrats.”
That stability may be a thing of the past. The reasons are several but easy to understand, once one actually looks past party labels:
- Left and Right no longer respect the same core values.
- One side no longer concedes the moral legitimacy of the other.
- The only bipartisanship in federal politics is about excluding “outsiders.”
Some of that is self-explanatory. “Core values,” which are synonymous with “ultimate goals,” must be shared by the parties to a negotiation if they are to reach an amicable compromise. A writer on negotiation once said during a lecture that “Winning a negotiation is like winning a marriage.” That’s a good way of approaching the matter. Any parley that involves “winning” and “losing” is about arranging a cease-fire, not a compromise.
The aim of the Left these past four decades has been an ever-more-open desire to eliminate the Right as an acceptable political family. That’s a credo of open warfare. It’s a great distance from the attitude that must prevail in a peaceful polity. And of course, that sort of “war footing” on the Left must evoke a matching attitude from the Right, which is slowly coming to be the case.
The total-war attitude comes through in the statements from the leading figures on Left and Right. They have the flavor of eliminationism, the desire to see the other side utterly destroyed and ground into the dust. Along with that goes a “no rules and no limits” mindset that gives rise to amoral tactics, measures of a sort decent persons would regard as foul play, in the drive for victory.
The veneer of “collegiality” in federal politics is easily penetrated, except when the well-established mandarins of both sides band together to exclude those not of “their sort.”
Given the most recent developments, it’s plain that the longstanding symmetry in American politics has been broken. There is no longer peace between the allegiants. There is only the struggle over who shall prevail.
Indeed so. So let’s make sure we win, by any means we must resort to—because the alternative is too horrible to even contemplate.