Can a perpetually divided America continue to lead a world in crisis?

Power oscillations are baked into the American political system. A country with an executive branch and a bicameral legislature divided between only two major political parties seems almost destined for continuous political swings.

History can prove this. Of the 82 sessions of Congress that America has seen since 1857, only 47 – a little more than half – have seen a unified government, where the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency are all controlled by the same party. And this period of unity itself was evenly divided – the Democrats had 22 unified governments, and the Republicans 25.

It is best to view modern American political history not as a chapter of Democratic or Republican control, but as a period of unity or division. The past 30 years, in which 10 of the 16 governments were divided between the parties, have certainly been a time of division. With the results of the US midterm elections, which concluded on Wednesday, more or less solidified, it has become clear that the session of the 117th Congress will see this trend continue. Republicans have gained strong control of the House of Representatives, ensuring that Democratic President Joe Biden’s next two years in office will be a constant headache.

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That doesn’t mean nothing has changed. Power transfers are normal in America, but the way they are being carried out and accepted by the public in the recent election is not. Before the middle of this year, the authorities in the United States warned of potential violence, especially from some right-wing supporters who could refuse to accept the results that did not work. Violent violations at the home of California House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month lend weight to this issue. Mrs. Pelosi was not home at the time, but her husband was briefly held captive by a man who clearly had political grievances.

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Abortion rights activists protested outside the US Supreme Court in Washington in June.  AP photo

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that the conspiracy mindset that has taken hold and given new shape to America’s political divisions. Some point to the famous Republican firebrand Sarah Palin’s entry into the presidential and vice presidential elections in 2008, while others go back as far as the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998. But while the location of the well may be mysterious, the taste in the water. Today’s flow is unambiguously attractive. It was very clear when on Tuesday, Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who has supported several candidates in the midterms, sent to a cheering crowd that he would reveal harmful information about Ron DeSantis – the newly re-elected Republican governor, rising. Florida — if he can be so bold as to aspire to the presidency.

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There are still many signs that most voters remain distrustful of extreme personalities and rhetoric, and this prompts cautious optimism for anyone watching America from afar. The ruling class in both parties is also set to be more diverse, racially and in terms of age, but also ideologically – a direct counter to the frequent pressure for conformity that has swept Democrats and Republicans alike.

America’s leadership – at home and abroad – relies on party leaders and Mr. Biden is doing something his country has always been known for but is now finding more difficult: summoning unity from diversity and finding strength even in division. With the world in a state of economic crisis and armed conflict in many places, the problem of American leadership, and few will have the patience to see the Washington party fail to come together to make it happen.

Published: November 10, 2022, 3:00 AM


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