President Obama (Mark Wilson/Getty Images )
Barack Obama's presidency has largely been defined by crisis. He entered the White House following an unprecedented economic meltdown, and events such as the BP oil spill, Hurricane Sandy and Syria's use of chemical weapons will be mere footnotes in the range of political, economic and natural disasters that have landed on his plate. However, the crisis which has defined his presidency and which will almost certainly come to define at least the next decade of American politics is the crisis within the Republican Party.
Normally, I don't like to freak people out on a Monday morning, but I'll bet the U.S. government will default on its debt and trigger a wide-ranging global economic calamity. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will happen within the decade.
Republicanism, in the age of Obama, has left planet Earth. Already a political faction deeply in hock to the corporate-lobbyist-industrial super-complex, in 2010 it was infused with a new strain of uncompromising fanaticism. In the words of former Republican operative Mike Lofgren, the GOP has become "an apocalyptic cult."
The most obvious and frightening manifestation of this has been the weaponization of the debt ceiling. This vestigial bit of parliamentary trivia has now become an economic suicide bomb carried by the dead-enders of the Republican Party in order to enact an agenda that the American people will never vote for (because, let's be clear, that agenda is insane).
Eventually, they will set it off.
Obama made a serious misstep in 2011 when he allowed himself to be subjected to a shakedown. Now he and every Democratic president for the foreseeable future will be subject to the same shakedown. What began with Newt Gingrich's machinations against Bill Clinton will continue to escalate. Due to gerrymandering, demographic sorting and a primary system that rewards the farthest of the far right, the whack-job wing of the GOP will be able to wag the dog, even though it's unlikely Republicans will win a national presidential election because of changing demographics and their terminal unpopularity among voters.
Obama and the Democrats cannot give in because it will encourage the hostage-takers to attempt future grander, scarier hostage standoffs. A growing faction of the Republicans won't give in because they are the aforementioned apocalyptic cult weeding out everyone but True Believers.
During the 2012 Republican presidential primary, I wrote an essay called "The Great Dysmorphia" describing the phenomenon of the asymmetric polarization in conservatism (while tripping on shrooms!). Looking back at it now, however, I probably wasn't pessimistic enough.
Human civilization faces serious existential challenges. I'll watch Sen. Ted Cruz and think about how in less than four decades there will be 9 billion people on an overheating planet that's running out of drinkable water. One might think we'd focus on some of those issues, but instead we have a mainstream political party threatening a global economic catastrophe to keep people from getting health insurance. The point being that the Great Dysmorphia is now its own separate existential crisis.
And this brand of paranoid, unreconstructed political millennialism? It's not a serious response to the world we live in. It's a clown show with a bomb strapped to its chest.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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