Despite what their rhetoric in television ads, press conferences, and fundraising pitches (including the four I received in my email inbox in the space of an hour on Thursday) suggest to the contrary, there is very little disagreement about any significant political issues in Congress. The truth, that our perennial brushes with debt ceilings, fiscal cliffs, shutdowns, and other looming abstractions occur not because we are divided but because we are so desperately united, that “gridlock” itself is possible only because of the insignificant nature of the disagreements between our parties, is something that cannot be acknowledged. Unlike tweets by the president, a wider appreciation of the inertia upon which our system rests probably would spell the end of our democratic system.

The truth is that there is a consensus in Washington. It’s a consensus that tells us that both parties agree about the size and scope of government, about the insignificance of deficit spending, about the benign nature of our foreign interventions, about the necessity of sweeping aside the problems — a false and ugly prosperity made possible by the impoverishment of people living far away from us, the spoliation of the natural world, drug addiction encouraged by corporate greed, moral disorder, spiritual despair — faced by ordinary Americans.