e pluribus, plures

The more things change.

I think George Friedman of Stratfor summed it up well in his paid-subscription newsletter of this morning.

The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives.

The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended immobilization of the government. With the House — a body where party discipline is the norm — under Republican control, passing legislation will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be difficult.

There is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs the least because its people discipline themselves.” I am not sure that the current political climate is what was meant by the people disciplining themselves, but it is clear that the people have imposed profound limits on this government. Its ability to continue what is already being done has not been curbed, but its ability to do much that is new has been blocked.

It’s hard to add to that. All I can say is that the future is unpredictable. Friedman’s forecast is very reasonable, but as he also says, I have argued that presidents do not make strategies but that those strategies are imposed on them by reality. The US can no more unilaterally determine the future than any other nation. Thus reality may lead to a different outcome in the next couple years, but we have no choice. We must wait for future reality to disclose itself.

From E pluribus, unum (From many, one) to E pluribus, plures (From many, many)

The election is perfectly in line with the last decade of American politics. We are an intensely and all-but-equally divided nation. As Friedman suggests above, we are likely to remain that way until such time as we cannot, for reasons beyond our control. The major American parties are, as always, coalitions of disparate groups with disparate goals. Just as the Republicans have disputes between social conservatives and libertarians, the Democrats will have their disputes between environmentalists and trade unions, as one example. The process of extracting oil from shale (fracking) is one of those issues where Democrats may find unity difficult.

Whatever, the party names mean little today, as has been true for a very long time, but the other popular labels, liberal and conservative, are also more and more dysfunctional. All these labels are easy to define in glittering generalities, but difficult to define in practice.

The US will eventually work itself through this period, although there is no guarantee that the results will be useful. The parties may slowly redefine themselves internally, or decline and perhaps the two major parties of the future will be the Libertarians and the Greens. But that would leave no room for the social conservatives, among others, so multiple parties may contest. I don’t know, but it will make for interesting theater at the least, a rebirth of a national consensus at the most. But getting from here to there, wherever “there” ends up being, will not be an easy task.

Despite so many narrow margins yesterday, there was one solid victory. The status quo is alive and well. There will be no court cases or recounts to trouble us. We can get on with it, whatever that may mean.


I write when time allows, about once a week, perhaps twice. If you wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no use for email addresses. I already have too many in my “address book”. Rest assured, yours will be kept private.

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