Among Americans, the pessimism surrounding the possibility of agreement between their country’s major political forces keeps growing. In daily press, radio and television reports, the most moderate political observers remember, not without a certain melancholy, a time when the debate inside and outside Congress was more civilized. The aim was to find points of agreement through the art of politics, in its most profound sense, not merely to crush the opposition.
Maybe there is reason in this. But we cannot ignore the historical context in which this way of “making politics” progressed in a search for solutions and the need to reach necessary agreements to solve government issues.
One of these agreements, acclaimed almost unanimously, was the one that resulted in the creation of the welfare state initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. The economic and social crisis responsible for the financial system’s breakdown in 1930 called for a profound change in economic and social policies. There were only a few who did not praise this national agreement, which reached most sectors of society.
Thirty years later, President Lyndon Johnson sponsored the Great Society program, whose main component was the war on poverty. The majority warmly welcomed it; however, the most conservative sectors rejected it. With their usual blindness, they did not notice the broadening horizon for the growth of the middle class, which, through a substantial increase in consumption, would promote a profound development of the U.S. economy.
The measures taken to emerge from the deep crisis at the end of the first decade of this century could have had an effect similar to one of the other two great moments, which rescued, literally, the prevailing form of development so far. It has not been possible to obtain the same results because, once again, the blindness of the most conservative sectors of society have gotten in the way more powerfully than before. Two elements have had even more harmful effects. The first is the endless ambition that characterizes the small group that holds the largest share of wealth, along with that group’s agents in the majority of the financial corporations and institutions. The second element is the deepening of conservative thinking within some sectors of society that feel aggrieved by the arrival of a president who promised a liberal policy radically opposed to the one of his predecessor and, moreover, was an African-American. These sectors encouraged the election of a group of lawmakers in Congress whose ferociously conservative ideology profoundly penetrates the rest of society, along with [the ideology of] their most conspicuous spokespersons in the media.
It is hard to talk about the sanity and civility needed to reach agreement when for some, it is necessary to repeal the health care law — whose benefits have already reached 20 million people — or reduce the taxes dedicated to social programs, or restrict women’s reproductive rights or the right to protect the environment, or [prevent] wage increase for those who earn less or demand a dignified migratory reform for millions of people.
The disagreements are plenty and diverse; it appears that some of them are insurmountable, both practically and ideologically. In the meantime, there does not seem to be any social agreement like the welfare state or the Great Society on the horizon.