Elizabeth Warren went on something of a tirade against Donald Trump last night. This part in particular stuck out to me:
It will determine whether we move forward as one nation or splinter at the hands of one man's narcissism and divisiveness.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 4, 2016
This is a perfect example of the sort of ubiquitous linguistic silliness to which we have become accustomed in the sorry age of the focus group. Of course Hillary Clinton’s election isn’t going to “unite” America. As it stands, Clinton and her team are slightly more popular than is the GOP, and they are probably ten points or so more popular than is Donald Trump. In consequence, she is almost certainly going to win the presidency in November. But that does not make her a compromise candidate or a magic healer, and nor does it change the fact that she’s an unpopular partisan in a deeply divided nation.
As the more astute political observers will have noticed over the past few decades, there exist a number of discrete social and political camps in this country, and they’re pretty implacably opposed to one another. As a result, it really doesn’t matter who wins in 2016; whatever happens, the result is going to upset just under half the people. Forget Clinton and Trump for a moment and imagine that the election had been between Rubio and Biden or Kasich and Sanders or Bush and O’Malley. Can you conceive of any outcome in those contests that didn’t leave more than 100 million citizens in a funk? I can’t.
This sort of happy talk is rife in politics. When President Obama proposes a new idea, he invariably pretends that his opponents’ dissent is driven not by disagreement on the merits but by a desire to “play politics” (he does this to Democrats as well as Republicans, including to Elizabeth Warren on the question of trade). And, when they want to get something done, the Republicans do the same thing. That, alas, is just how the game is played. Opposition from your side is principle; from the other it is obstruction. Factionalism on your side is welcome diversity; from the other it is a threat to national unity. And always — always — your candidate is the one who will unite the country, around your ideas, natch.
In a vacuum this doesn’t matter a great deal. Politics has attracted self-serving rhetoric from the earliest days of civilized man. But if we start to believe our own fumes we will lose sight of the proximate cause of our current trench warfare, which is not that “politics” is intruding upon our sunlit uplands or that Kulakian “dividers” are roaming the land sticking spanners into wheels, but that we have a hopelessly divided polity that is in possession of multiple conceptions of the good life, and that we are unwilling to address that fact by returning power to the local where it belongs. Because the Republican party is feckless and dull, Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the next president of the United States. Depending on the scale of her win, she may even manage to get something done. But she won’t “unite” anybody, and the electorate will not move forward as one upon her ascension to the throne. The fundamentals run deep in America, and there are no magic words to dissolve them.