America Can Save Itself, But We Have to Get Out of the Red Vs. Blue Rut

The American electorate's confidence in governing elites and established institutions has been coming unglued.The percentage of Americans who trust their government all or most of the time plunged from 44 percent on the eve of George W. Bush's inauguration in January 2001 to 18 percent at the end of 2017. Over the same time period, public approval of Congress, the central institution of American democracy, plummeted from 50 percent to 17 percent.This collapse in confidence has led to remarkable volatility, with wave elections for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, Republican waves in 2010, 2014, and 2016, and another Democratic wave in 2018. Voters have lurched back and forth between Team Red and Team Blue in the desperate search for sound leadership.Further, the political appeal of anti-system candidates of the kind once relegated to the fringe has soared: Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian self-described socialist, came close to getting the Democratic nomination in 2016; Republican voters generated boomlets for Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Ben Carson before actually nominating Donald Trump. With Trump's flukish victory in the 2016 general election, Americans have now elevated an extravagantly unfit demagogue to the most powerful position on the planet.Trump's nomination and victory could not have occurred in a healthy, stable, well-governed market democracy. The center is failing to hold, and the passionate intensity of our worst impulses is filling the vacuum. Without bold and effective leadership, the nation's real and serious problems, which are the ultimate cause of our deranged politics, will only fester and worsen. Which, in turn, will only increase the political openings for future anti-democratic demagogues -- who, unlike Trump, may possess the self-discipline and focus to translate their dark designs into explicitly authoritarian usurpations.It is no exaggeration to say that the future vitality and integrity of American republican self-government now hang in the balance. There is one sure way to quiet our populist distempers and restore faith in democratic institutions, and that is for those democratic institutions to deliver effective governance. Success in this effort will require not just new policies, but a whole new way of thinking about policy. The center can hold, but first it must be fortified with new convictions.There are many reasons why our political system has failed to address the mounting problems and dissatisfactions of the 21st century. But one crucially important and widely neglected factor is that the two prevailing ideological lenses, on the left and right, have gaping blind spots that render the most promising path forward invisible. On economic policy issues, the traditional axis of conflict is "pro-government" on the left and "pro-market" on the right.Overcoming our present malaise, however, will require bold moves in both directions simultaneously. We need both greater reliance on market competition and expanded, more robust, and better-crafted social insurance. We need more government activism to enhance opportunity, and less corrupt and more law-like governance.  Continue reading...

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