Diane Johnson:

Is it economics or identity politics that have drained our sense of community, so that people don’t mind, or even enjoy defying the conventions of civil discourse and peaceful governance? These seem, now, so fragile; now we are fragmented into Iowans or Californians, Muslims or Catholics, Lithuanians or Poles instead of a nation. The same communitarianism has risen in various European countries. In principle the French hoped to make every immigrant French; the little Algerian child was told Napoleon was his emperor, that he had a right to be proud that Pasteur invented vaccination. Now, just as we’ve done a bad job integrating, say, that community of Sikhs in Minnesota, whole communities resegregate in France too, resisting assimilation. We’ll see if Syrians will do the same in Germany; the Turks who came as guest workers complained at first about the obstacles they faced fitting into less than welcoming German society. (Still, in the Bundestag today there are eleven members of Turkish origin.)

Liberals are equally if not more responsible for the rise of identity politics. I mean, really.

Marilynne Robinson:

Strangely, for something that has almost the character of a movement, this change in our political culture is visionless, valueless, driven largely by an urge, signaled in taunts and slurs, sometimes realized in restrictive voting laws, to renege on advances we have made in the direction of racial and gender equality. It is true that these advances have been undercut by a neglect of the consequences for many Americans of globalization greatly compounded by policies of austerity and strategies of government paralysis that are the work of politicians who somehow manage to pass themselves off as populists.

Figures such as Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert devised means, notably party discipline and routine use or threat of the filibuster, to make the rules of governing obstruct governing. This is the sort of cleverness that discredits orderly process, just as the crowing of a billionaire over his lawful avoidance of taxes discredits the system of taxation. These obstructionists have provoked a frustration in much of the public that aligns with, and perversely affirms, the Reaganesque saw that government is the problem, not the solution.

Let’s be careful here, Ms. Robinson. Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert came up with party discipline and the filibuster? I don’t think they did. Indeed, the U.S. government is, by intent and structure, deadly to bills. There are more ways for a bill to die than become law, as they say.

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