We have met the enemy, and s/he is us.[i]
For much of the decade of the 2010s, I’ve spoken and written about climate change — calling it the greatest threat facing the nation. I was wrong.
The greatest threat is our collective unwillingness to bridge the gaping and deepening divide that separates Republicans and Democrats. As our nation’s climate has grown warmer, our politics have turned colder. (See Figure 1) Where the federal government was once considered a part — albeit an imperfect one — of needed solutions, it is now considered a primary problem.
There is no national policy issue on the table today that does not reflect and suffer from the increasingly hardened differences between the nation’s major political parties.
The political division reflects two opposing Americas — of almost equal electoral strength. The federal government remains in gridlock at a time when concerted action is needed to address climate change and other of the nation’s pressing problems.
As we begin the 2020s, it is critical for Americans — all Americans — to step back for a moment and take stock of what the national body politic has become. As Lee Drutman writes —
National politics (in the US) has transformed from a compromise-oriented squabble over government spending into a zero-sum moral conflict over national culture and identity.
We no longer trust each other or our institutions, and our collective mistrust is playing out in ways that undermine and upset the balance between the branches of government and the regard paid to them by the governed.
If the past quarter-century is a prologue to the future, then the political pendulum will continue to swing wildly between two political parties that are moving further left and right of their respective centers. As long as Congressional gridlock endures, power will continue shifting towards the executive branch via presidential orders and implementing regulations — creating something akin to an imperial presidency.