The Last Election

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Political polarization in the U.S. is a fact. “According to the Pew Research Center, members of both parties who have unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have doubled since 1994, while those who have very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party are at record highs as of 2023 … American Facebook users on the political right and political left shared almost no common interests.”

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Not only are two camps emerging, they are fighting, even at the expense of governance. GOP senators are rattled by a radical conservative populism that is taking rhetoric beyond mere talking points to its logical conclusions.

Republican senators say they’re worried that conservative populism, though always a part of the GOP, is beginning to take over the party, becoming more radical and threatening to cause them significant political problems heading into the 2024 election.

GOP senators are saying they’re being increasingly confronted by constituents who buy into discredited conspiracy theories such as the claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election or that federal agents incited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Growing distrust with government institutions, from the FBI, CIA and Department of Justice to the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, make it more difficult for Republican lawmakers to govern.

The Democrats and Republicans are being pulled apart by the new Woke conspiracy attractors reshaping the scene. The old axis is being disrupted by a second dimension perpendicular to it. It’s interesting to watch the political parties try to cope. On the GOP side, it produced a plethora of outsider candidates. On the Dem side, it created a Brezhnev-like inbred stagnation. This is why RFK is shaking up the Dem primaries by running as a conspirator and why the GOP establishment candidates are languishing. The parties can only grow in forbidden directions, and the pressure to transform is plunging them into crisis.

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Despite this, the status quo is still massively strong. The conventional wisdom is that the establishment and the Woke movement piggybacking on it will prevail in the short term, perhaps after a damaging struggle, and stagger on, slowed for now but not stopped by the Conspiracist rebels. But there is an air of emergency. All efforts are being subordinated to short-term survival. RFK will be rejected lest he weaken Joe Biden in the 2024 battle against a “QAnon-tinged” challenger; no time to worry about the long-term future of progressivism with the Conspiracist threat so near at hand. On both sides, but for different reasons, 2024 has taken on the aspect of the Last Election. A WSJ op-ed writes:

The heightened feelings on both sides are reflected in a poll that found that about 80% of Republicans believe that the Democratic agenda, “if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.” About the same share of Democrats had the same fear of the Republican agenda, saying it would destroy the country, an NBC News survey found last fall.

The critical nature of the 2024 election makes the probable lineup of rival candidates all the more curious. Can the Dems find no one but Joe Biden to stop the MAGA crowd? The under-appreciated effect of Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy on progressives is that they lack time to evolve or renew their strategy by locking them in a crisis mode. They go into each new battle with the same old talking points and the same geriatric leadership. Like Mahan’s “fleet in being,” they comprise a threat that cannot be ignored and the Dems must send the old Mighty Hood out to meet them. The end point of all these forced moves is an extraordinarily unpalatable dilemma. The establishment nightmare is that Biden loses, but perhaps an even worse dread is a situation where Biden wins.

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We may be sliding toward a Western domestic equivalent of the Ukraine War—a protracted destructive stalemate pitting the Woke vs. the Conspirators lasting decades. We may have to plan on living, indeed progressing, in a divided, conflict-ridden society for the foreseeable future. Arguably the process has already started with the rise of “virtual apartness,” perhaps expanding irresistibly into other areas like culture and even geography. The commons will continue to be shared, but we may see the rise of Members Only facilities everywhere outside the public space.

What would such a world be like? Consider a hypothetical society where software filters deconflict you from anything you don’t want to see—and doesn’t want to see you—but still equitably share the commons. A giant planetary cruise ship where we all have different packages. Can we all gain together in partial cooperation, or is it doomed to be a zero-sum game? At the end of the day, whichever package we’re on, there’s still the question of where the ship goes. That’s a question the resolution to which can be postponed but not indefinitely avoided. If the primaries produce a Conspiracy vs. Woke 2024, then there’s a lot of zero-sum sentiment in the electorate, though, arguably, neither side remotely has the ability to impose it.

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