How do we make sense of our political moment?
There has been no dearth of commentary on the meaning of the 2016 American presidential election and its political aftermath. Pundits, scholars, and others have expressed alarm about the degree of fragmentation and polarization, the increase in vulgarity in political discourse and the loss of political civility, the weakening of traditional international alliances, the abuse of basic ethics in governing, and the resurgence of nativism, populism, isolationism, and nationalism, all of which could encourage authoritarian behavior among those in or seeking power. There are good reasons to be uneasy.
Yet beyond a pervasive sense of panic, one invariably encounters the belief that whatever problem we face, it is, in the end, fixable. Yes, our republic is deeply fractured and Washington is profoundly dysfunctional. Yes, there is a vast depletion of social capital. Yes, our public discourse is debased. Yes, for all of its power, late-modern capitalism has failed to maintain a steadily rising living standard for average people, making them fearful and politically angry. And yes, the culture of democracy, which has long been the glue holding Americans together, has begun to dissolve. But if we eschew the ideologies of left and right and focus instead on pragmatic solutions to core problems, we can find a way forward.