The more “Democratic” an institution is these days, on the whole the less well it is working. What institution in the United States has been under Democratic control longer and more thoroughly than the failing public school systems of major cities? Or their police departments?The problem, dear reader, might be that political parties, being political parties, think like political parties, where it's all about winning elections. The Democrats keep on relying on their dependent base, The Republicans, at the presidential level, have just pivoted from National Greatness Conservatism to National Greatness Populism. But turfing out the rent-seekers means a radical restructuring of the Republican management, and the managers are more about institutional survival.
Yet against the backdrop of failing Democratic policies and institutions, the collapse of the Republican Party into political and intellectual incoherence is all the more striking. The Democrats, for all their inability to achieve their stated end of social progress through their chosen means of good governance, are clearly more competent at the essential business of party management than their GOP rivals. The failures of Democratic governance are so apparent, and the public unhappiness with the cronyism and inequality of interest group liberalism so deep, that organizing an effective opposition should be a fairly easy task—but even that basic objective has eluded the contemporary GOP.
The rot, Mr Mead suggests, is in other institutions as well as in the dinosaur political parties.
Our society has grown too big, too complex and too diverse for the ideas and institutions on which it runs. This is partly a religious and cultural problem. American culture was originally shaped by a set of Christian and Enlightenment ideas, sometimes in tension with each other, that nevertheless provided a framework for common social and political discussion. We’ve moved away from this classic American synthesis without finding an effective replacement—if indeed a replacement can be found—and both the spiritual and intellectual roots of American life are growing more and more attenuated.In some ways, we're seeing what happens when Wise Experts attempt to cultivate all the social and political strains from their Acela Corridor hothouses. Complex adaptive systems tend to do whatever they d**n well please, including withering in the presence of excessive pruning.
Democratic progressives remain locked into the assumptions and categories of 20th-century progressive thought. This involves things like the administrative state, the career civil service, the role of the upper middle class professional in limiting the tendency of both the plutocratic elite and the unthinking masses to wreck society by their short-sighted and selfish demands. The progressive professionals are no longer able to do that job as the plutocrats are too powerful and too clever for the regulators—and the masses are less and less willing to submit to the increasingly ineffectual tutelage of their self-appointed administrative and academic mentors and guardians.Evolution is mutation, selection, and adaptation. That does not preclude extinction for the maladapted. Including the legacy political parties and their court intellectuals and their talking points.
Meanwhile, the sources of mass affluence and security that stabilized American life in the 20th century—large-scale manufacturing and clerical employment in big, stable corporations and government institutions—have been declining for decades, and the new forms of information-age economic activity are not well-developed enough to take up the slack. And these internal crises are shaking American society at just the time new challenges to the Pax Americana are rising worldwide. Old orders are breaking down everywhere, and ambitious powers are seeking their “place in the sun.”