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America’s topsy-turvy politics

Republican congressmen almost coming to blows on the House floor last week. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty

America is experiencing a political age we might call “the Great Inversion”, says Gerard Baker in The Wall Street Journal. Virtually everything, from voting trends to the parties’ main values, has flipped. The “most consequential” switch is in each party’s approach to governing. For decades, the left was more concerned with “ideological purism” than the “compromise-tainted business of actually governing”. As the satirist Will Rogers put it: “I’m not a member of any organised political party. I’m a Democrat.” The Republicans, meanwhile, favoured “pragmatism over purity”, ruling by the dictum: “Damn your principles. Stick to your party!” It’s no coincidence that Republican presidents held power for 28 of the 40 years between 1953 and 1993.

Yet today’s Democrats are “the most ruthlessly organised and efficient” political entity in the world – “and I include the Chinese Communist Party”. They won only the narrowest of victories in 2020, yet still managed to enact “one of the most ambitious agendas of any government in recent history”: trillions of dollars in new government spending and a massively accelerated green programme. Meanwhile, the Republicans have embarked on an “orgy of self-mutilation”. Take the circus around the House Speaker vote: despite his party holding a majority in the House, it took GOP leader Kevin McCarthy 15 attempts to secure the position, as petulant ideologues repeatedly refused to toe the party line. Republicans need to sort themselves out. As the Democrats have realised, elections aren’t won by parties that prioritise “internal purification” over getting stuff done.