Published in November 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
It’s a bleak portrait that George Packer presents of the United States (p20), crippled to the point of standstill, apparently, by its own constitution, a text which it has offered to the world for so long as the blueprint for governing a democracy. As both Packer and Jacob Kierkegaard argue (p22), the wreckage in Washington is, in one sense, a narrower problem than it might seem. The repeated gerrymandering of districts in the House of Representatives, now calculated by computer, means that a minority can hold the entire legislative process to ransom. In what Packer calls “mutinous irrationality,” a bloc of House Republicans have now thrown up a barricade with themselves on one side, and every piece of legislation that the President or other members of Congress might want to pass on the other. Even those who argue that there should be no modern reinterpretation of the constitution cannot say that this is what the Founding Fathers intended.
Packer, however, drives home the point that for Republicans this may be the last roll of the dice. The parties’ prospects have swung around in a generation, from the point when it seemed as if Democrat support would survive only in a few coastal pockets. Democrat presidential candidates have won a majority of the popular vote in five of the last six elections, he points out. Unless the Republican Party radically reinvents itself, demographic changes mean that America’s future is Democrat, he argues.
Maybe. But that future is the other side of the barricades. The rift between people with opposing views of how to solve America’s problems now goes so deep that it has entirely changed politics. It isn’t a disagreement in views of which policy is better; it is a clash of beliefs about values and of visions of the f…