If we open a quarrel between past and present,” Winston Churchill once said, “we shall find that we have lost the future.” I think it was etched on a statue of him Antifa smashed. Regardless, the cat nailed it.
For when the present is chaotic and the future uncertain, it is all too human to hark back to a romanticized past. When indulged on a personal level, these nostalgia trips can provide a restorative respite from pressing concerns, thus enabling one to continue his struggle to understand and transcend present challenges. Yet, when indulged by our two major parties, a politically twisted past is weaponized into a lethal nostalgia with which partisans earnestly bludgeon each other in their incessant struggle for power. This without contemporary purpose or promise for a 21st-century American citizenry uninsulated from the social, political and economic upheavals of globalization—unlike too many of those who inhabit the Washington swamp.
As we’ve seen with each succeeding electoral wipeout, Americans are tired of waiting for Republicans and Democrats to articulate a common-sense legislative agenda that not only results in real improvements in people’s lives but also advances an aspirational view of America’s role in the 21st century.
So, as the sovereign American people grapple with the challenges of daily life and search for answers to the momentous issues facing our nation, they have reached one firm conclusion: they loathe both parties. Consequently, once the party in power proves itself incapable of meeting the challenges confronting 21st-century America, the voters give the opposition party another chance to prove it has learned from its previous mistakes. Think of it as the electoral equivalent of lather, rinse, repeat.
The public’s cycling (and recycling!) of the parties into and out of power will continue until one—and ultimately both—escape their desperate dance with 20th-century policy paradigms (a full discussion of which is beyond the scope of this piece). It won’t happen soon.
For the issues, problems, and concerns confronting America in the 21st-century cannot be surmounted until the core question (once thought settled) that divides the parties and faces the electorate is answered: is America the exceptional nation, or is America an inequitable nation?
At the instigation of both parties’ partisans, Americans have a ringside seat at a quarrel between the past and present; and no matter who they root for, Americans risk losing their future.
Ironically, it is this very quarrel which allows the swamp-dwelling parties to wallow in their all too familiar and comfy mud during elections by pumping out doses of lethal nostalgia—Democrats decrying the country’s historical sins and razing 19th-century statuary; Republicans trying to win another one for the Gipper by courting Ozzie and Harriet, as though nothing has changed.
But things have changed, for better and for worse; and as the globalized 21st-century’s communication revolution continues apace, enormous and tumultuous changes will continue to occur. The downside is that Americans’ immediate sense of chaos and uncertainty about the future will be exacerbated. This, though painful, will spur the upside: the American people will make their decision as to the core question of America’s intrinsic character and, eventually, as to what constitutes the proper aspirational American agenda in this century.
Then, and only then, seized by their survival instincts, the querulous parties will be dragged out of the past into accordance with the present needs and future dreams of the American people.
This is not a prediction predicated upon false optimism or a romanticized view of the past. It is based upon the practical reality of a constitutional surety: the bipartisan pimping of lethal nostalgia to mask their antiquated policies’ inadequacies will end when the parties and their candidates are reminded they are not the sovereign electorate’s masters but their servants. And when push comes to shove in the voting booth, they will heed the people to avoid becoming history.
So put on your thinking caps, folks. The sooner you divine America’s character and future role at home and abroad, the sooner you can give your elected servants their marching orders into the 21st century and win the future.
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