The US Concentric Circles Are Breaking Up

One Circle is Now Spinning Away and Jamming Up the Works. Let It Go.


Let’s acknowledge something up front. This blog is about to provide some simplified analysis. Bear with me; the sin should be worth making this short and readable. I hope.

America has been at its best, has worked best, when we recognize we all live in concentric circles. That is to say, we have our core groups and tribes that most express our beliefs and desires. But we have also found ground wherein those circles chose to overlap, to work together.

A simplified but reasonably accurate example would be the past functioning of the Democratic and Republican parties. The arrangement might look like the following, reflecting both politics and societal norms:

2 circles

Each national party had its priorities and core values. But there were area of overlap wherein it was natural and appropriate to cooperate. Example: passing essential legislation. Or “politics stops at the water’s edge,” (we speak with one voice in foreign affairs and when overseas). Boy, that last one seems quaint and almost unimaginable now, doesn’t it?

There were also examples of cooperation a bit further afield than the green core area. One party would yield to the other on a given issue. In doing so, they acknowledged the importance of that issue to the other. They did so in return for some compromise on the issue. Both sides expected the favor would be returned in the future. Seen much of that lately?

But of course, the country is much more complex than a couple of circles. We have divisions within each circle. There are powerful groups not within or associated with either political party. The picture actually looks more like this:


It’s much harder to find that common green area with so volatile a mix. We have seen how this can develop. It empowers the extreme and makes governance representing all impossible. Even a casual review of Israeli politics in recent years shows us what this looks like. India too has suffered from this sort of paralysis by the numbers.

But that is not the big news. It’s not even the worst news. It might contain a kernel of good news. Because today our political and social set of circles looks more like this:

Broken Cluster

One sizable group has decided it has no interest in trying to represent anyone but itself, for any reason. Cooperation and compromise are seen as weakness and betrayal. No one can run a large, complex entity, less more a country, that way, but they seem to believe otherwise. Sometimes they don’t care; government collapse is fine. This is the latest iteration of the Tea Party or Freedom Caucus.

The Republican party toyed with, encouraged, thought it could control, this movement. Then came Trump. All the ugliest elements behind the rhetoric of this movement found its figure head. It felt entitled to come out of the shadows and toward the mainstream. What was the Republican party has been consumed and is no more. I, for one, hope a serious center right party does get built out of this wreckage. The country needs one and does not have one now.

We don’t really know how large this extreme cohort is. It’s larger than I had hoped or would have thought, but perhaps not as large as some think. The November elections will tell us much. The more interesting question is about what comes next. What about those who voted for Trump but are not so extreme as to actually think Steve Bannon is on to something or that Trump represents our values after all?

For the rest of us, the challenge is as follows. How do we engage, dialogue with, and help transition back toward the center those who voted for Trump but now know they were misled? They want nothing further to do with Trump or anything that looks like the Tea party. Where do they go? Might there be issues that can be addressed?

And what about those who ARE perfectly happy as Trump supporters, still? What about outright American fascists, racists, xenophobes, religious bigots, capitalist extremists? Hillary Clinton’s description is fair and accurate for this element. The challenge is not how to engage such people. It is how to call them out and defeat them. How do we ensure others that there are paths forward without the moral bankruptcy that is this movement. This kind of thinking needs to be called out and challenged at every turn. No one gets a pass.

One hopes that at some point we will come out of the chaos and darkness that currently stalks the land. When we do, how we decide to address these two groups will be determinate factors in what the next couple of decades look like in America.

Good luck to us all. As of this writing, 99 days until election day.


Bill Clontz

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