One lesson of the midterm elections is that economic growth is losing its power to unite the country and to reduce explosive conflicts over race, religion, ethnicity, immigrant status and sexuality. . . .It does strike me as interesting that the economy did not help Republican more this time, but that is hardly new: Nixon beat the sitting vice president in 1968, a year of economic boom, because the Vietnam War and cultural upheaval overwhelmed economic concerns. Which makes me wonder: what is it about our time that is intensifying political divisions? We have no issue like the Vietnam War to fuel the fires, but partisan hatred seems to be at record levels.
Despite many problems, the economy in 2016 seemed strong enough to put Hillary Clinton in the White House. When voters went to the polls, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, annual inflation was only 1.7 percent and median household income had increased 5 percent in 2015 from 2014. Nope, not enough.
Similarly — and despite the usual midterm bias against the party of the incumbent president — the economy seemed healthy enough to help Republicans retain control of the House in last week’s election. Unemployment was lower than in 2016 (3.7 percent), inflation was only a tad higher (2.3 percent). Median income has continued to advance. Nope, not enough.
Some liberals think the underlying issue is white angst about becoming a minority, exacerbated by having a black man in the White House. I remain unconvinced; it just doesn't seem to me that racism is any worse than it has been throughout my lifetime. There is certainly economic uncertainly and unfairness, but, again, this does not seem to me to have gotten worse, and if this were the driver you would think our current economic boom would help.
I keep going back to the intense, widespread anxiety that seems to pervade our society. I find this deeply mysterious; I just can't see any reason why more people should be crippled by anxiety than ever before. If somebody figured out that the cause was some ubiquitous chemical, I would not be surprised, because nothing else makes sense to me. But wherever it comes from I think that when added to our already existing partisan divides over race, sex, sexuality, the economy and so on the result is the level of hate and fear that we suffer from now.