Road to Confederation
The book that comes closest to fully and accurately explaining the problems with out current political process is the 2012 Mann/Ornstein book, aptly retitled in 2015 It's Even Worse Than It Was/Looks. Mann/Ornstein were early reporters of the assymetry between the Republican and Democratic parties, which is obvious to anyone who understands the difference between the offense and the defense in football.(Hint: Democrats are the offense, trying to move the ball down the field with progressive legislation. Republicans are the defense, trying and succeeding in stopping them.)
Where Mann/Ornstein fall short is their recommendations for the solution to a broken political process. On this blog we have identified the objective press needing to be better at their job, which Mann/Ornstein have as one of their solutions with the great example of objective reporting of a hit and run driver by looking at the situation evenhandedly from both sides - the driver and the pedestrian who was hit. They also suggest that voters could do a better job by punishing extremism, but that seems unlikely to happen.
It's time we talk about likely outcomes.
The Republican Party strategy of taking over governorships and state houses state by state, challenging federal law at the level of the states with a combination of state law and challenges in the lower courts, along with gerrymandering and voter suppression to achieve legislative majorities has been very successful. The 2016 election may be the first election where the control of Congress rests upon the effectiveness of voter suppression efforts. At the federal level, Senate power of Republicans is effective with the filibuster and the stymie of Presidential appointments to the courts including the Supreme Court. In the House, the shutdown of government and threat of government default are bargaining tactics that are now an established standard, despite how drastic these measures are. Over the past six years, the dire threat of public debt and runaway inflation (remember those?) were used as justification for those extreme measures.
We have written about a four party system as a solution to this dysfunction. That preserves the current government structure. Throughout our history there have been swings toward a strong third party, which our binary system makes self-defeating and therefore unsustainable without at least a fourth party. In a few rare cases we have found ourselves with at least four parties, 1860 and 1912 being especially notable. The fact that those were temporary realignments is instructive.
Another alternative would be structural reform in Congress of voting rules or other procedural rules to eliminate dysfunction, but major reform seems unlikely.
We could find ourselves with a restive unruly electorate and disgruntled citizens which could provoke major dislocations that would be extremely troublesome. Let's hope nothing like that happens.
That leaves further evolution of a Confederation form of government constricted by the current federal form embodied in the U.S. Constitution. This has been the goal of conservative Republicans that is embodied in their political strategy, but is never explicit. At the federal level, this means control of Congress or at least one body - the House or the Senate- is essential in every cycle, along with control of a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court. In chess, sacrificing the queen sometimes makes sense. For conservative Republicans, sacrificing the Presidency in most cycles and settling for a weakened U.S. President in order to maintain necessary control of the Congress makes tactical sense. Confirmation of court appointments will remain stymied indefinitely as long as a Democrat is president. Eventually, the people will grow weary of the gridlock associated with a Democratic president, even if that is a result of the tactics of a Republican controlled Congress and elect a Republican president, at which time court appointees will again be approved in the Senate.