There’s a lot wrong with America’s political system, and lots of debate about ways to fix it — overhauling our broken campaign finance system, for instance, or setting national standards to protect voting rights. Liberals wring their hands over the difficulty of getting legislation on such changes through Congress, citing gridlock and partisanship as reasons those kinds of reforms are doomed. Amending the Constitution seems even more impossible.
But what if the opposite is true? What if it turns out that it’s gridlock and partisanship that open a path for constitutional reform?
It may be hard to imagine, but today’s political impasse may eventually give way to a new governing coalition. Look at the Gilded Age a century ago, when mounting social problems fueled a rare consensus for reform. Then, as now, economic inequality was widening as restraints on corporate power eroded and moneyed interests dominated our elections. The nation was polarized along regional lines that mirror today’s red state-blue state divide. Immigration was changing the country to the alarm of traditionalists. Elections were won by narrow margins, producing gridlock. And all the while, a conservative Supreme Court stood in the way of needed change. In time, the pressure for reform caused a dramatic leftward swing in national sentiment that few saw coming — an earthquake that divided the Republicans, lifted the Democrats and led to the adoption of four amendments after years of fruitless advocacy.
That all sounds a lot like 2021. The country has been going through demographic and economic changes comparable to those in the Gilded Age and a new, diverse generation of voters is on the rise. Like their predecessors in the early 20th century, the new generation has decidedly progressive politics and is leading important social movements.