Not anymore. In Washington, there’s the prospect of impeachment beyond impeachment, of new hearings to supplement the old ones, of additional evidence that will spiritually nullify the president’s ludicrous acquittal by the Senate. John Bolton continues his national-security version of a strip tease; he’s both a man of — and a metaphor for — an era in which nothing finishes, everything festers and all can be revisited and revised. Bill Barr junks sentence recommendations. Trump commutes sentences. There are investigations into investigators. Cries of cheating and fraudulence fly in every direction.
I blame the internet, because I like to and because it’s true. I mean that I blame the way it encourages people to choose their own information and curate their own reality, so that no official pronouncement competes with a pet theory. I blame a national epidemic of selfishness, too. It seems to me that fewer and fewer people are easily moved off their particular worries, their special wants. Any outcome that displeases them is ipso facto a bastardized one.
“The refusal to grant victors legitimacy bundles together so much about America today: the coarseness of our discourse; the blind tribalism coloring our debates; the elevation of individualism far above common purpose; the ethos that everybody should and can feel like a winner on every day,” I wrote during the last presidential election, and I wondered then if this were a passing phase.
Nope. It’s the context — aggravated if anything — for the current race for the Democratic nomination, which features a scrum of sharp-elbowed aspirants, room galore for recriminations and the very, very real possibility of a brokered convention.
Imagine that Sanders — with a plurality but not a majority of delegates — loses the nomination that way. He and many of his supporters would probably say that Democratic voters had been betrayed, and they wouldn’t be wrong. They could be furious enough to abandon the party’s pick, to the advantage of Trump.
Now imagine the opposite: Although Sanders lacks a majority, Democrats who aren’t on his train feel too intimidated not to ride it, and so rules and dynamics set up expressly to make sure that the nominee represents as close to a party consensus as possible aren’t properly applied. His nomination would be deemed unjust in some quarters, straining party unity.
What would salvage either set of circumstances is the acceptance and acknowledgment by Democrats who don’t get what they want that perpetually sore feelings serve little purpose. But that perspective — that maturity — is in retreat.