Someday soon, many Democrats think, America will wake up from the Trump nightmare and return to normalcy. Donald Trump, they hope, will prove to be not a new normal but an unfortunate aberration. They’re probably wrong.
Democracy tends to give us the government we deserve. Bill Clinton wasn’t responsible for the rotting of personal morality; he reflected what was already there. Similarly, Mr. Trump did not create the polarization and politicization of everyday life; he’s simply great at riding a wave that was already coming ashore. Mr. Trump’s passing from the national scene will not automatically usher in a new era of comity and harmony.
Long before President Trump, American politics were taking on an increasingly partisan tenor. Gerrymandering succeeded all too well, creating districts so safe that many members of Congress began to fear primary challenges if they deviated from the party hymnal or worked across the aisle. Many legislators started living in their districts and commuting to Washington, diminishing the opportunities for them to meet—and humanize—colleagues from the other party. The growth of campaign expenditures from super PACs and other independent groups increased single-issue funding, while weakening the ability of party leaders to corral their caucuses.
Due to the proliferation of cable news channels, strident political voices that can cut through the clutter began to attract a passionate, albeit fragmented, audience. Social media allowed politicians to target messages narrowly to particular groups, while giving voters a way to follow their representatives almost in real time.
These developments haven’t been wholly negative. Although it might have been tidier when politicians retreated to private rooms to cut their deals, it’s hard to argue with increasing accountability and widening the opportunity for civic participation. Moreover, heated debate over core issues—whether to cut taxes, say, or increase defense spending—is healthy in a democracy. But two hallmarks of the modern era are the high levels of partisanship and the politicization of practically everything. As the federal government’s role has grown at the expense of local officials, civic institutions and individual autonomy, political debates have become more consequential and more heated.
It seems almost quaint that Microsoft didn’t open its first Washington lobbying office until 1995, amid federal efforts to regulate and potentially break up the company. Today, the tech giants employ an army of lobbyists. So do energy companies, since aggressive climate-change policies threaten their business. So do health-care companies, since the government is simultaneously their regulator and their largest customer.
The political stakes are especially high when it comes to the judiciary. A president wins election thanks to voters in a few decisive states. He nominates a new Supreme Court justice, who is confirmed by the narrowest of margins in the Senate. That justice tips the balance in historic 5-4 decisions, covering everything from abortion restrictions, to the definition of marriage, to the need to prove intent in discrimination cases, to gun rights, to religious liberty.
Sweeping Supreme Court rulings can appear unpredictable to the public, and they often result in sudden rather than incremental change. When the court tries to settle society’s most pressing and personal issues, sidelining the branches of government directly accountable to voters, it leaves fewer opportunities for course corrections. Every election becomes the most important in our lifetimes, with stakes so high that any attack on a political opponent seems fair game.
Seeking common ground becomes even more difficult once political opponents see each other as the enemy, in moral terms, rather than as misguided patriots. Although it is tempting to credit Mr. Trump with a unique ability to drive the other side crazy, this is not a new development. Recall the wild allegations that Mr. Clinton was complicit in a conspiracy to kill Vince Foster, that President Bush invaded Iraq to secure its oil and avenge his father, or that President Obama was born in Kenya.
Even if Mr. Trump retired quietly to Mar-a-Lago, a return to civility would be unlikely. That would require both parties to stop governing as if they represent a permanent majority, and instead to limit the power of their offices to what they would be comfortable with their opponents possessing. Lowering the stakes may be the only way to turn down the heat. Is that what the presidential aspirants of 2020 or 2024—from either party—seem to be doing?
This story was originally published in WSJ Entry posted by Bobby Jindal