Dems win big

Back to nor­malcy

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

I TSEEMS the two-party sys­tem is alive and well now that the po­lit­i­cal pen­du­lum has swung back again, this time much to the Democrats’ de­light and the Repub­li­cans’ de­spair. They tell a story about an old farmer up in Kansas who emerged from his cy­clone shel­ter af­ter a storm had swept away ev­ery­thing in sight—the house, the crops, even the top­soil, leav­ing be­hind noth­ing but dust and de­bris. And he burst out laugh­ing. “Pa!” cried his son, “Why are you laugh­ing? Ev­ery­thing’s gone.” “Why, son,” the old man replied, “I’m laugh­ing at the com­plete­ness of it.”

The whole coun­try seemed in an in­sur­gent mood in this year’s elec­tions, and maybe the no longer Grand Old Party should join it. For the na­tives have grown rest­less, yet again, and it showed in the elec­tion re­turns this month. And who can blame vot­ers for throw­ing cau­tion to the ev­er­shift­ing winds and go­ing with their im­pulses? For the coun­try now has a nom­i­nally Repub­li­can pres­i­dent in Don­ald Trump, who acts as if he were a po­lit­i­cal party of one whose tweets re­veal a deeply shal­low char­ac­ter. He sounds any­thing but pres­i­den­tial. As he flits from sub­ject to sub­ject and con­ti­nent to con­ti­nent, an ob­server can only won­der at his abun­dance of en­ergy and ab­sence of judg­ment.

In the best of all pos­si­ble Repub­li­can worlds, the coun­try would have a pres­i­dent who com­bined Ron­ald Rea­gan’s old-time con­ser­va­tive re­li­gion and pop­ulist al­lure. Now, this pres­i­dent of­fers his coun­try and party both in fits and starts, un­able to set­tle on just one de­pend­able ap­proach to pol­i­tics. While the Democrats seem to have the op­po­site prob­lem. They may have an ap­peal­ing mix of prom­ises to of­fer the Amer­i­can pub­lic just now, but no sin­gle leader, no pres­i­den­tial hope­ful to lead their head­less party.

And so Democrats wan­der among the ruins their op­po­si­tion has left strewn about, pick­ing up the spoils of their tran­sient vic­tory. To the vic­tor be­long the spoils, but what are those spoils worth if that vic­tor doesn’t know quite what to do with them?

Amer­i­can pol­i­tics re­mains a great circus with many more than three rings—a fas­ci­nat­ing spec­ta­cle to watch. But is it any way to gov­ern? Let’s just say our pol­i­tics lack def­i­ni­tion at the mo­ment. For when some­one says he’s a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can, what does that mean? Your guess is as good as ours, Dear Reader, and prob­a­bly a lot bet­ter. Our pol­i­tics lack the ide­o­log­i­cal clar­ity of the European brand, thank good­ness, for there is such a thing as fol­low­ing ide­ol­ogy right over the near­est cliff. But that doesn’t mean ours are any more in­tel­li­gi­ble.

Amer­i­can pol­i­tics re­mains a great circus, but there is no ring­mas­ter in sight. Which party one is in­clined to root for is no sim­ple mat­ter of eco­nomic de­ter­min­ism but a com­plex ad­mix­ture of fam­ily his­tory, ge­o­graph­i­cal roots, and maybe just im­pulse. When a European vis­i­tor to this coun­try was told her host­ess’ fa­ther was a Repub­li­can, she asked if that meant he was a cap­tain of in­dus­try, owner of a small business, a re­ac­tionary type, or all or none of the above. Our vis­i­tor could only snort in re­sponse to the as­sump­tion that her own fa­ther was a Repub­li­can. “My fa­ther,” she haugh­tily de­clared, “is a roy­al­ist.”

They are frag­ile things, words and pol­i­tics, which can shift from left to right and back again at a mo­ment’s no­tice. But there’s of­ten less to these dra­matic shifts than meets the eye. There’s no need to fol­low the news ev­ery day; to be sure, it’ll just re­peat it­self in time. At the mo­ment, ev­ery­thing is in flux. And there’s no sense in as­sum­ing it has to make sense here and now. If you missed a late de­vel­op­ment, there’s no point in re­gret­ting it. For it will be re­peated soon enough.

So to the win­ners of this sea­son’s elec­tions our con­grat­u­la­tions and to the losers our con­do­lences. But no sweat. This merry-go-round will be swing­ing back around soon enough.

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