The US Is Likely Ungovernable In Near Term Future

The leaders of the Republican Party’s domestic goals remain limiting immigration, strengthening voting suppression laws, bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and business deregulation. The Democratic Party’s goals of increasing voter turnout, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, and expanding the social social safety net are in stark contrast to their counterparts. In generations past, the parties could bridge their ideological divides and come together to govern on a coherent platform. Republicans voted for Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights bill, and Democrats worked with Reagan and Bush II, for example. Those days appear to be over. The Republican base has shifted so far to the right that working with Democrats to achieve policy goals is impossible (see the Republican opposition to Obama’s legislative agenda). And Republican extremism has made it untenable for Democrats to work with Trump on any significant legislation without a massive revolt from their voters.

The result is a climate where the middle no longer exists and bipartisanship at the federal level is about as common as Shaquille O’Neal calmly sinking three pointers. The parties are increasingly representing not only a political ideology, but a cultural way of life: the Republicans represent cultural traditionalism and white nationalism, where Democrats represent multiculturalism and liberal, free thinking values. As the demographics continue to shift, the stances of the parties and their bases will harden — the browning of the country will endear Democrats more to diversity and multiculturalism while Republicans will elect more extremist candidates like Roy Moore from Alabama.

What does that mean for the future of the country? Well, at least in the near term, it means that the US will be ungovernable at the federal level. Without the ability to reach consensus between the two parties, the only way to govern effectively will be for a single party to win all three levels of government. And that’s no sure thing either: Even with control of the executive and legislative branches and the Supreme Court, conservatives are still finding consensus within their own party painfully difficult to reach, with public embarrassments like the inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act becoming common. Although the Republican Party is currently led by ineptitude at the top, one could see a Democratic Party that controls all three branches of government running into the same problem with something like single payer healthcare: facing total opposition from the other side and unable to reach internal consensus. It is the complete opposition of the other party to major legislation that makes the deals of old unfeasible.

Trump is highly unlikely to pass any landmark legislation, meaning the last major bill passed at the federal level is the Affordable Care Act. At the end of Trump’s term, that will have been ten years ago. There is no evidence that the Republican Party would be willing to work with Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or any of the potential Democratic frontrunners for 2020. In all likelihood they would be demonized in the same manner as Obama. Without both chambers of Congress, major legislation will be nonviable, even with it, coming to near total party consensus without Republican votes for bills will be strenuous. And even in the event that Democrats pass a major healthcare or voting rights bill with full Republican opposition, it will still be subject to a review from a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, thanks to Trump’s win in 2016.

I think that in the near term future, the parties at the federal level will be more influential culturally than legislatively. That is to say that Trump can wage a cultural battle by saying Neo Nazis are good people or slamming Black protesters (both extremely dangerous for marginalized people and the sanctity of US institutions) but he can’t govern through policy changes in the same way that Reagan or even Bush II did. Future Democratic Presidents will likely do the same, but in reverse — they’ll be able to push multiculturalism and diversity through broad statements and executive orders, but passing comprehensive legislation will be extremely challenging.

Obviously all of this goes back to the fundamental issue with the country — the racial hierarchy of white dominance is being fundamentally challenged. White privilege is being openly questioned by politicians at the highest levels. Eventually voting rights for marginalized people, the criminal justice system, and the racial wealth gap will all be set center stage as minorities demand the full rights and privileges of citizenship. The Republican Party, which is now the avatar for white nationalism, is fighting that change with all of their might. The next 20–30 years will be a fight for the soul of the country and what it means to be American. It will either become apartheid South Africa or a thriving multicultural democracy. But we exist in the meantime, before either of those outcomes has been achieved. And the present looks like federal dysfunction and the failure to reach Congressional consensus.