But the limits to that unity have showed forth in the political paradoxes of today. Life would be unimaginably worse, for rich, poor, and middle class alike, were they to wake up tomorrow without the benefits, incentives, and protections given to them from Washington. Whether propped up by food stamps and Medicaid, student loans and mortgage interest tax deductions, or economic bailouts and big agricultural subsidies, no class of Americans seems poised to do better off with less federal assistance. Yet the great unrest that roils both parties today reflects a collapse of confidence in the stability of that arrangement. It’s this unrest that explains Occupy Wall Street and the campaign of Bernie Sanders. It also explains the Tea Party and the surprising political success of Donald Trump. Everyone knows the system is rigged. People just can’t figure out who the system is rigged against. The fear is palpable: not just that one basket of goodies or another might be taken away, or that the economy has been imbalanced in favor of one group of another, but that the distribution of patronage is so precarious that one wrong move could upset the whole. One stiff breeze, and its seems our towering Sequoia could tip over.
As we leave the gravitational pull of 1932, and hurl toward that of 2100, not less than the sustainability of our current form of governance is at stake. A lot is to be revealed about your deepest political feelings if you feel excitement or dread when imagining the day when the America of 1932 is as distant to us as the America of 1848 was to those who first cast their ballots for the New Deal. If history is any guide, there will be no wholesale revolution at the ballot box in 2016. But this year may well mark the beginning of the end for the era of government largesse.