January 23, 2020
Author: Chilton Williamson
The British, including British conservatives, don’t like Donald Trump anymore than Continentals do. Ben Riley-Smith, the U.S. editor for The Daily Telegraph, predicted at the start of the President’s impeachment trial in the Senate that Americans would be glued to the television broadcasts for the duration of the proceedings. Of course, the majority—probably the large majority—of us are quite unglued and remain free and free-floating citizens, going about our daily business and pursuing our various and diverse interests away from our sets and smart phones. A story in the Wall Street Journal today (January 23) suggests that the larger part of the country views the trial merely as an exercise in Washington partisanship-as-usual.
During the presidential election of 2016 and since, the media have assumed that the growing political polarization of the two national parties is a reflection of polarization at the grassroots. Such, indeed, was probably the case before Trump’s electoral victory and his three years as president shocked the owners and operators of the Democratic Party into their present radical reaction against all things conservative in their mildest form, and finally against common sense itself. The result is that the real polarizing force on the American left is no longer the liberal grassroots but the Democrats’ so-called “base,” which is substantially the party and its extended apparatus—the “activists.”
The American public appears to understand this fact, which explains its relaxed attitude, first toward the impeachment proceedings in the House and now toward the trial in the Senate. The sound and the fury, it seems to suppose, is being generated by the two warring gangs of professional party politicians in Washington. This assumption, arising chiefly from the risible case for impeachment made by the Democratic House, has so far encouraged the reasonable America majority to conclude that polarization is a phenomenon more common among the political elites than it is among the run of ordinary citizens. Except in the case of the mad-dog left, the current hysteria is best understood as the collective mental and emotional breakdown of the American political class. I think this understanding is the correct one—but perhaps only for now.
So far as the future is concerned, there is real danger that if the partisan wars in the Capitol continue as they are going—and there is no sign that they will abate, particularly in an election year–their emotional violence, their hypocrisy, their unreason, and their viciousness will spread to infect and further anger, divide, and overwhelm the country at large. As polarization among the electorate was the initial cause of the polarization of the two parties, so those parties might further polarize the general public; angered, like their politicians, beyond caution, reason, and restraint. That, of course, is a recipe for civil war, however the conflict might organize and express itself. With our political parties now at swords’ point, how long can it be before the nation as a whole is at war with itself? We could be poised to discover whether such a thing is possible, in a country the size and extent of the United States, along dividing lines that are something other than geographical ones.