In the realm of physics (a.k.a. “the world” or “reality”) a great many symmetries and equilibria are observable by anyone who cares enough to pay attention. Among the most interesting and educational things one can do, though not necessarily safely, is to disturb such a symmetry and watch what happens thereafter. Sometimes the consequences are violent:
“Suppose you take two rods, one in each hand. Place their tips together and push. As long as your pressure is directly along their long axes, the pressure is equalized; right and left hands cancel each other. Now I come along; I put out one finger and touch the rods ever so lightly where they come together. They snap out of line violently; you break a couple of knuckles. The resultant force is at right angles to the original forces you exerted.” [Theodore Sturgeon, “Microcosmic God”]
Today, Richard “Wretchard” Fernandez reminds us that symmetries of force are observable in politics:
Concise and perfect. Stability in American politics, as has existed since about 1896, has been maintained by a rough equality in popular support between the two major parties. That equality has never slipped very far. During “landslide” election years, what has mattered most was not the party affiliations of America’s politically involved citizens, but a general sense that one party was “underperforming.” That’s why the key phrase of the Eighties was “Reagan Democrats.”
That stability may be a thing of the past. The reasons are several but easy to understand, once one actually looks past party labels:
- Left and Right no longer respect the same core values.
- One side no longer concedes the moral legitimacy of the other.
- The only bipartisanship in federal politics is about excluding “outsiders.”
Some of that is self-explanatory. “Core values,” which are synonymous with “ultimate goals,” must be shared by the parties to a negotiation if they are to reach an amicable compromise. A writer on negotiation once said during a lecture that “Winning a negotiation is like winning a marriage.” That’s a good way of approaching the matter. Any parley that involves “winning” and “losing” is about arranging a cease-fire, not a compromise.
The aim of the Left these past four decades has been an ever-more-open desire to eliminate the Right as an acceptable political family. That’s a credo of open warfare. It’s a great distance from the attitude that must prevail in a peaceful polity. And of course, that sort of “war footing” on the Left must evoke a matching attitude from the Right, which is slowly coming to be the case.
The total-war attitude comes through in the statements from the leading figures on Left and Right. They have the flavor of eliminationism, the desire to see the other side utterly destroyed and ground into the dust. Along with that goes a “no rules and no limits” mindset that gives rise to amoral tactics, measures of a sort decent persons would regard as foul play, in the drive for victory.
The veneer of “collegiality” in federal politics is easily penetrated, except when the well-established mandarins of both sides band together to exclude those not of “their sort.”
Given the most recent developments, it’s plain that the longstanding symmetry in American politics has been broken. There is no longer peace between the allegiants. There is only the struggle over who shall prevail.
“There is no such thing as a dirty game. But you sometimes run into dirty players.” [Robert A. Heinlein]
The above is true…as far as it goes. A game in which potential contestants would play by different rules – a favorable set for one group and an unfavorable one for the other – would not be viable. No one would knowingly and freely take the destined-to-lose side. But that’s the sort of “game” American politics has come to resemble.
In consequence, millions of Americans are disaffiliating from political involvement. They can’t see a reason to engage in a guaranteed-losing struggle. Some are merely pulling back into their personal shells of home, family, and neighborhood. Others are girding for war. Thus is the breaking of the symmetry unleashing chaos upon us.
Do not imagine that the former group poses less hazard than the latter. A man who has “fallen back” to his moral-ethical redoubt is that most dangerous of creatures, the man who wants only to be left alone. He might resist being called to the political front lines, but he’ll fight like a wounded lion for those he has pledged to protect.
Of course, the other group will be forming up for the combat. “You want a war? Let’s have it!” Just as with the “leave us alone” camp, other considerations will not move them. I’ve written before about what we may expect to follow.
You may think you know what chaos is. You may even think you’ve seen it. You’re very probably wrong.
So “it’s not looking good.” Yesterday’s indictment of President Donald Trump on entirely insubstantial charges – charges that aren’t even founded on a recognized crime! – is the capstone. There must now be a battle that will leave only one side standing. We’ve arrived at a true crux point at long last.
“And I think that’s all I want to say, old buddy, except…keep your head down.” [Stephen King]