For months now I have been holding out hope that the political winds might shift and that Obama might emerge from November’s elect ions in a relatively strong position, but that now seems almost impossible, and it is time to reckon with more depressing alternatives. The excellent web site fivethirtyeight.com now shows the Democrats likely to emerge with only 52 or 53 seats, and the Republican lead in generic House polls is increasing. (Fivethirtyeight is working very hard to develop an accurate prediction for the House but it is not yet available. It has just pronounced the Republicans likely to capture four additional state houses.) If the Democrats hang on to narrow majorities they will still be unable to take any major new initiatives for two years. If they lose even one House, we will be treated to new rounds of bogus investigations of imaginary wrongdoing, and, I feel sure, a government shutdown. And already it seems likely that the Bush tax cuts will be extended in toto—although it would be an act of political wisdom and courage for Obama to let them expire instead.
Ever since the Bush years, some Democrats have been worrying about the onset of some kind of Fascism under Republican rule. Such fears, I now think, are entirely misplaced, for reasons that I treated two weeks ago in my post on Lukacs. Both Fascism and National Socialism had disciplined visions of where they wanted their nations to go, and Nazism, in particular, embodied all the major aspects of mid-century centralized states, such as a new transportation network and benefits for workers. It also tightly controlled the economy. This is exactly the kind of national organization of which neither Republicans nor Democrats are capable any more, and the Republicans, in particular, have become their own species of Marxists, looking forward to the withering away of the state. Marx, of course, did not believe this could take place until a proletarian revolution had created a classless society, but in an astonishing feat of propaganda, the Republican Party and its media acolytes have persuaded many millions of Americans that their happiness depends on low taxes and unregulated markets, and Democrats have totally failed to make the case for the contrary position either in theory or in practice. That indeed is their most brilliant achievement: they will get back into power, if they do, without organizing uniformed militias or physically terrorizing their opponents. And meanwhile, Fox and Clear Channel have done something Goebbels must certainly have envied, turning media propaganda not only into a major political force, but into a profit-making machine.
Indeed, the Nazi, Communist and New Deal regimes all depended on a level of organization and a sense of national destiny which seems virtually to have vanished from the earth. Like most historical changes this is actually a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it makes it impossible to recreate the totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century on a large scale. On the other, it is making the United States literally ungovernable.
Ungovernability is indeed the experiment which we seem destined to try. With Republicans threatening to re-establish political hegemony based on the idea that we can continue to cut taxes and make do with less government, no serious problem, including the deficit, can be addressed. We will see further declines in state and local services and millions of unemployed, including many young people, with no prospecs of careers. The financial, medical, energy and fast food sectors of the economy will continue to thrive while the rest withers, thanks largely to the unlimited campaign spending which they can now undertake. The House and Senate will include more and more millionaires, as will the nation's state houses. (Jane Mayher explores all these trends at length in a recent New Yorker article on the Koch family, an energy powerhouse that has devoted much of its fortune to rolling back the history of the last 80 years.) Since the Republicans are determined to oppose immigration reform we will continue to number huge numbers of illegals in our midst, with all that that implies. Our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and there will be no large-scale attack on our energy problems.
The United States was also largely ungoverned for several decades after the Civil War, when the KKK terrorized the South and industry and corrupt political machines ruled the North. Society in those days was much simpler, however and we do not know what the consequences of less and less government will benow. There will surely be a reaction against them, as there was then, but it will come mostly from Americans born since 1982 or so. Because they will not be organized to tackle great national tasks like the GI generation was, they will have to set a personal example of frugality (which their own problems in life will encourage) and do what they can to help people on the local level, for instance in the Charter School movement. The last Awakening (1965-84) took place in a politically secure era and focused on emotional and social isues. The next one, like that of the Progressive era (about 1882-1902) will probably be much more political.D
After the elections of 2006 and 2008, some Democratic political consultants apparently concluded that demographic shifts had created a new, permanent Democratic majority. I heard James Carville in particular make this argument not long after Obama took office. He was wrong. The New York Times reported last week that fewer younger voters are identifying themselves as Democrats, a trend that will continue if the economy does not pick up. It may also be a mistake to believe that Hispanic citizens sympathize with the plight of illegal Hispanic immigrants. It is good, of course, that citizens are holding the government accountable, but sad that the Administration has been unable to change many lives for the better, with the exception of state and local government employees who were not laid off.
When Strauss and Howe wrote their books in the 1990s they believed deeply in a coming regeneracy parallel to that which had taken place in the twenty years before their births. As recently as two years ago I had the same hopes. It is astonishing to think that only a little more than a year ago we were discussing sensible solutions to real national problems. But it seems this is not to be our fate. Other generations to come will re-establish the idea of a just society and a benevolent state. We shall evidently have to content ourselves with other kinds of satisfactions, and there is no reason to believe that our political structure will be fundamentally altered..