That’s the title of a long and useful article published by Stratfor, and partially reproduced here with their permission. Here are a few excerpts.
I’ve written in the past pointing out that political vituperation has been common in the United States since its founding. Certainly nothing today compares to what was said during the Civil War, and public incivility during the Vietnam War was at least as intense.
What has changed over time is the impact of this incivility on the ability of the government to function. Consider the substantial threat that the United States might refuse to pay the debts it has incurred by consent of Congress and presidents past and present. In private life, refusal to pay debts when one can pay them is fairly serious. Though this is no less serious in public life, this outcome in the coming weeks seems conceivable. It is not partisanship, but the consequences of partisanship on the operation of the government that appear to have changed.
. . .
There is a vast difference between principle and ideology. Principles are core values that do not dictate every action on every subject, but guide you in some way. Ideology as an explanation of how the world works is comprehensive and compelling. Most presidents find that governing requires principles, but won’t allow ideology. But it is the senators and particularly the congressmen — who run in districts where perhaps 20 percent of eligible voters vote in primaries, most of them ideologues — who are forced away from principle and toward ideology.
. . .
It is not ideology that is the problem. It is the overrepresentation of ideologues in the voting booth. Most Americans are not ideologues, and therefore the reformist model has turned out to be as unrepresentative as the political boss system was. This isn’t the ideologues fault; they are merely doing what they believe. But most voters are indifferent. Where the bosses used to share the public’s lack of expectation of great things from politics, there is no one prepared to limit the role of ideology. There is no way to get people to vote, and the reforms that led to a universally used primary system have put elections that most people don’t participate in at center stage.
Each faction is deeply committed to its beliefs, and feels it would be corrupt to abandon them. Even if it means closing the government, even if it means defaulting on debt, ideology is a demanding mistress who permits no other lovers.
There’s more at the link. It makes very interesting reading, particularly if, like myself, you’ve come from a different background and hadn’t fully understood the history of US political ‘machines’. I learned a lot from it. Recommended.