It’s very difficult in retrospect to track any kind of gradual evolution, either in nature or in human events. One can have a sense of things changing and landscapes altering subtly over time, but there is seldom some kind of watershed event that can be isolated as a real turning point (though we often try to create one.) “that was the day the river changed its course…” or, “the point when their marriage began to falter…” or “the moment that made me realize it was time for a career change.”
Things tend to just gradually shift over time, and then a day comes when you recognize that everything is different. This feels like one of those times, politically speaking. Everything seems different to me. There is a level of reckless, petty, bitter hostility between the two major parties that seems almost unprecedented to some political observers.
I know Newt Gingrich shut down the government and President Clinton was impeached. Those were nasty, contentious times, but they didn’t feel like this. As I recall, there wasn’t this sense of (as the Bible puts it) “a great gulf fixed.” It was more like a shallow coulee that people shouted lively, cheerful insults across, and regularly traversed for fraternization with the other side. Now it’s a vast, yawning, impossible chasm. It’s the Grand Canyon.
Polls also show that people are much less content with their government during times of perceived hyper-partisanship…and that the public isn’t even particularly happy about the new Republican Congress they’ve just elected.
What is causing this increase in really bitter partisanship? It can’t be something the public wants, since we see many of these polls showing they really hate this kind of relentless political warfare. It can’t just be the economy, because party interactions were already getting intensely sharp and divisive before the crash in 2008.
So, is it the president’s race, as many would contend…or a backlash against changing social attitudes? Is it immigration and the gradual changing of the face of America?
Or am I simply imagining the whole thing, and it’s always been like this? In a way, I would really find it encouraging if you could convince me that it’s not all that different nowadays… that it’s just me.