A year ago today, as I prepared to watch the inauguration of a president whose unfitness for the job horrifies me, I wrote a post wondering whether there was still a center in American politics, a place where people of good will from the left and the right could find the kind of reasonable compromises necessary to govern when there is little consensus on what is to be done. And I quoted the haunting line from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming:”
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …”
I hate to tell you, but the very next Yeatsian line, which I left out last year, was:
“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
I’m not a centrist. But I believe that – perhaps especially in America with our increasingly rigid two-party system in which party lines have hardened while moderates and centrists have mostly disappeared – our nation’s governance badly needs a center right about now, lest mere anarchy be loosed upon the world.
Yet I fear the latest trends in public opinion augurs ill, which is how I felt to see current trends in polarization reflected in this latest poll result from Morning Consult.
When asked to grade the work of President Donald Trump at the end of his first year in office, 64 percent of Democrats gave him an “F.” Another 15 percent, gave him a “D.”
But 43 percent of Republicans gave him an “A” and another 29 percent gave him a “B.”
Few of us, (14 percent, and only 19 percent even of self-declared independents) gave him a middling “C.”
Since mid-April — around the 100-day mark of Trump’s presidency, when Morning Consult and Politico first asked the question, Republican voters have become 10 points more likely to give Trump an “A,” while Democrats who give him an F have risen from 48 percent then to the 64 percent now.
(If you’re wondering, there was also a 10-point jump, from 21 to 31 percent, of independents who gave him an F.)
Sure, I blame Trump, too. I’d give him an “F” too. I’m surely not arguing that he presents any kind of a “center.” When asked for a one-word description of Trump’s performance in office, I always end up with “horrified.”
But I’m also pretty close to horrified about this level of polarization and the lack of a middle in which governing can occur.
I’m for health care for all. I’m for a clean DACA renewal. I’m for a more progressive tax code, a wider safety net, and less militarism. But those things aren’t going to happen this quadrennium, and a lot of work and a lot of change will be necessary to build a durable majority for those things. In the meantime, I think we need to reinvent bipartisan compromise to keep mere anarchy from being loosed upon the world.