BOSTON (CBS) – Fifty years later, the lyrics of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong echoed through election night like a prescient primal scream.
“Ball of confusion. That’s what the world is today.” – The Tempations 1970
The occupant of the White House for the next four years will be determined – eventually.
So will majority rule in the U.S. Senate.
But there will be no blowout, no political realignment that consigns the partisan constipation of the last two decades to the recycling bin. Even if Democrats end up seizing the presidency and the Senate to go along with their lock on the House, the margins will be wafer thin, and close to half the country will marinate in the toxic petri dish of grievance and fury that has become our natural habitat.
Even here in the Democratic sanctuary state of Massachusetts, there was the whiff of discord. On a night when every Democratic incumbent in sight won easy re-election, Ballot Question 2, the ranked-choice voting reform, went down hard, despite being endorsed by every major local Democratic politician (and former Gov. Bill Weld for good measure).
Check: 2020 Election Results
Question 2 was marketed as a way to restore civility to our politics. Bleep that, said the electorate.
Let’s face it: negative partisanship – “the tendency of some voters to form their political opinions primarily in opposition to political parties they dislike” – rules, and political civility drools.
Negative partisanship is the defining characteristic of Trumpism, where the equal-opportunity universe of hatreds expands beyond Democrats and “libs” to include foreigners, non-white people of all kinds, and Lady Gaga. Negative partisanship was at the core of the Biden campaign strategy. And guess what? When negative partisanship has completely supplanted the DNA of our political culture, you’re in for a civic life that is eternally partisan and negative.
Joe Biden may still win this mess and has vowed to reverse the trend. Good luck with that.
When America looks in the mirror this morning, it sees a nation hooked on an insidious drug that leaves all others in the dust. Negative partisanship is free, always available, and keeps the addict permanently high, chronically scratching his social, cultural and political itches.
One problem – when you stop scratching, the itch is worse than ever. Does anyone seriously think that a Biden victory by week’s end will reunite a single family torn apart by Trumpism, or move us closer to finding common cause?
We all need to go to political rehab. But like Amy Winehouse, we just say “no, no, no.” And the end result, as Whitfield and Strong noted a half century ago, is a nightmare:
Fear in the air
Ball of confusion
That’s what the world is today
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide.