21.2.17

AS THE SAECULUM TURNS?

In The American Conservative, Robert W. Merry credits Donald Trump with perceiving a crisis of the status quo.
The campaign year of 2016 turned out to be a year of crisis politics writ large, manifest not just in Trump’s rise but also in the remarkable run, in the Democratic primaries, of democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator.

As the surprise-laden year unfolded, more and more analysts cast their thinking toward the angers and frustrations within the electorate that were driving the country in entirely unanticipated directions. Elements of the crisis now were seen and probed. But few captured its full magnitude.

It was nothing less than a crisis of the old order, a crisis of the crumbling status quo. Its most significant manifestation was the political deadlock that gripped official Washington and rendered it incapable of political action. Many saw this as a problem in itself, but in reality it was merely a stark manifestation of the status quo crisis. As the old order of American politics began to disintegrate, the two parties clung ever more tenaciously to their familiar and time-tested positions, defaulting to an increasingly rigid groupthink stubbornness and shunning any thought of political compromise. Far from grappling with the crisis of the old order that had descended upon America and the world, the party elites couldn’t even acknowledge its existence.

But the country was at an inflection point. It desperately needed a new brand of politics that could break the deadlock and set it upon a new course toward its future and destiny. In such times, a gap inevitably emerges between the political establishment, guided by the lessons of the past (increasingly irrelevant lessons, as it happens), and the electorate, always ahead of the establishment in seeing the need for new political paradigms, new dialectical thinking, and new coalitions designed to bust up political logjams and set the country upon a new course.
Put another way, a Fourth Turning is an emergent phenomenon.  And it's precisely the old saecular order, the one of Franklin Roosevelt and Happy Days are Here Again, that is now untenable.
FDR’s power consolidation has created over time a collection of elites that has restrained the body politic in tethers of favoritism and self-serving maneuver. Wall Street dominates the government’s levers of financial decision-making. Public-employee unions utilize their power (they can fire their bosses) to capture greater and greater shares of the public fisc. Corporations foster tax-code provisions that allow them to game the system. “Crony capitalism’’ runs rampant. Members of Congress tilt the political system to favor incumbency. A national-debt burden threatens the country’s financial health. Uncontrolled immigration threatens the country’s sense of security and, for many, its sense of nationhood. The nation’s industrial base has been hollowed out, and the vast American working class—the bedrock of the FDR coalition—is squeezed to the point of desperation.
Not to mention being squeezed into a basket of deplorables, but I digress.

More to the point, Mr Merry might be too wedded to the status quo to fully grasp what upending the saecular order involves.
He might succeed. He might fail. Either way, the American people, in their collective judgment, will maintain an unsentimental view of it all. If he succeeds, they will reward him with their votes, and a new coalition might emerge. If he fails, they will fire him. And then the crisis of the old order will continue and deepen until, somehow, at some point, the voters manage to select a president who can get the job done.
Emergence is beyond the power of a president to manage. Perhaps Mr Trump will cobble together enough of a coalition to get the current job done, and perhaps that coalition will set the values regime for the next eighty years. Or perhaps the new values regime will emerge despite what goes on in Washington.  That's something a brief American Interest commentary hints at, without looking more closely into the abyss.
The Trump voters were right that the nation needs change and that the “best and the brightest” are failing the nation the way they did during the Vietnam War; the Clinton voters were right that on the whole the Trump team lacks the skills and the temperament to run the country. Glenn Reynolds is right that this isn’t just another example of partisan gridlock. It is a danger to the stability of the United States political system.
Let's not forget that "best and brightest" is a dig at the Wise Experts of the early 1960s who promised Guns and Butter, Victory in Vietnam, Victory over Poverty, and Water from the Moon.  OK, I'm exaggerating on that last one.

And I'm not sure what to make of Doug Schoen's lament for Scoop Jackson's Democrat Party.
While the Democratic Party is driven left by anti-Trump activists, protestors, and Senators such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, America itself remains a fundamentally center-right nation.

A fundamental belief in national sovereignty and individual responsibility, married to cautious skepticism of government and deeply held moral convictions, continues to govern how most Americans think about politics.
That's an opportunity for libertarian-minded political operatives, if they'd but seize it.  For Mr Schoen, it's all about the bipartisanship.
Despite what the Democratic base wants, if these Trump-state Democrats fail to find opportunities to cooperate with Trump, or at least position themselves as centrists congruent with their constituents’ beliefs, they will lose to a more canny Republican candidate in the general election and increase the likelihood that Trump gains a filibuster-proof Senate.

While the Democratic Party's progressive and moderate wings clash with one another over their party’s future, Republicans are dismantling the blue wall and solidifying America’s status as a center-right nation.
Perhaps, although if there's scant evidence of a regeneracy, it's the Republicans who might find themselves turfed out.  If it's the Democrats doing the turfing-out, the tussle over the shape of the new saecular order is likely to be further prolonged.

We'll know that something new is taking shape if we see people rediscovering the merits of the Tenth Amendment, rather than defaulting every difficulty to Management by Wise Experts in Washington.  The Best and the Brightest have sat there long enough.  Go!

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