The American Political System in Transition to a New Century
The ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” appeared to have fallen on both American politicians and the American public during the early-to-mid 1990s. In a variety of ways politics had become less predictable, more conflictual, and, in some respects, simply nastier than it had been in earlier decades. This is not to say that the 1990s are comparable with the 1850s, 1890s or 1960s — decades in which massive upheavals threatened to disrupt the American polity; they are not. However, given that the 1990s might well have been expected to be an era. of “quiet” politics, it is curious that this has not been so. More important, it may be asked whether the “unquiet” character of the polity in the 1990s will persist into the twenty-first century. The object of this chapter is to outline what seems to have changed in American politics, to suggest why, at first glance, the 1990s seems to be an unlikely decade for turbulent and conflictual politics, to examine the factors that have contributed to these developments, and, finally, to ask whether this turbulence is likely to continue after the year 2000.
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