The United States is entering an important phase. By this time next year, with most presidential candidates declared, we will know whether the republic is post-Trump and returning to ‘normalcy’ or approaching peak-Trump and moving toward some sort of civil discord. I predict the former. The midterm elections in November 2022 revealed a nation grasping for the centre. The extremes of left and right did poorly. I expect this trend to continue through November 2024. So, for centrists, some New Year reasons to be cheerful.
Consider how both parties approached the recent elections. President Joe Biden claimed that not voting for his party was a threat to democracy. Trump-backed candidates suggested that not voting for their party posed the same threat. Neither message carried the day. Biden’s fringe, ‘The Squad’ of identity politicians in Congress, for example, saw their vote go backwards. The cadre of slightly unhinged Trumpist election-deniers also tanked. ‘Enough already!’ was the message relayed by voters in defiance of the polls, most of which had predicted a deepening of polarisation. There was no ‘red wave’, but no woke revival either.
The usual pattern in off-year elections (when the Congress is recast, and some state houses change hands, but there is no presidential election) is for the party holding the White House to take a shellacking. See the Democratic losses in 2010, two years into Obama’s first term, or the GOP losses in 2018, two years into Trump’s. November 2022 bucked that trend. Rather than revealing new ideological fault-lines, it presaged a return to a more normal politics. The system is cleansing itself, as it has done recurrently across nearly two and a half centuries. Trump and woke have peaked.
There are some good reasons to believe that the United States is moving away from conflict and returning to a more regular amity. This is not because America is uniquely good or exceptional. Rather, it is for want of something fundamental to divide on. In the absence of a large issue, muddling along and centrism are more likely to become default settings.
Despite the histrionics of the extremes, left and right, there is no big issue confronting the United States. I have spent the last six months in Wyoming, America’s reddest state. No state has been more persuaded by Trump than this one. But, even here, there is only a concern for the local. Who owns what land? Should carbon sequestration be state funded? Is there a growing grizzly bear problem? Their rejection of Congresswoman Liz Cheney was partly because she opposed Trump. What annoyed my hosts was the perception that she cared more about her Washington interests than Wyoming’s. For all their apparent fervour for Trump, Wyomingites rarely talk and act ideologically. And what is ideology without a big idea?