The Two Political Orbits
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This year’s U.S. Presidential elections have been unusually energetic and polarized.
One might attribute this fact to the unusual, energetic, and polarizing personality and candidacy of Republican nominee Donald Trump. But much like Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Trump is unlikely to have garnered such strong interest unless the U.S.’s basic political coalitions were not themselves especially polarized and far from the country’s political center right now – and perhaps near or at the end of a period of realignment and consolidation.
Put another way, both Trump and Sanders are unlikely to have emerged as robustly and credibly as they did, or to have found such significant political space and momentum, if the U.S.’s two dominant political parties and their establishment figures were not so significantly misaligned with a divergent or repolarized national culture and electorate.
This new post-infotech, post-recovery, and post-globalization environment is one more preoccupied with economic security, alternatively via either cultural primacy or inclusiveness, than either party had realized in earnest (see Michael Lind’s excellent article, Future of American Politics, for a discussion of these trends).
While similar dynamics are underway in many countries today, now and of course in all times to some degree, the case of the U.S. is unique and especially illustrative in some ways.
First, its persistent two-party political system quintessentially embodies and institutionalizes the natural conservative and liberal forces at work in all countries, multiparty and single-party alike, and really in all complex social settings. Second, as the world’s leading or at least most watched country in many domains, the U.S.’s political machinations are observed, reported on, and scrutinized like no other country in the world today.
Given this, the currently quite polarized and habitually dualistic institutional politics of the U.S. can offer a distilling window into societal political dynamics more generally, and provide an opportunity to understand these dynamics more plainly and fundamentally. In particular, and as my title suggests, I would like to use current U.S. political events as an opportunity to specifically explore a simple but powerful model of two distinct orbits, axes, or alliances in politics, one that substantially describes social life around the world and even across history.