Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don't get in the way of the pendulum!

The surprise result in the 2016 presidential election was driven by a large segment of the citizenry feeling overlooked, ignored, and insulted by the political and media establishment.  The powers-that-be are shocked and surprised, but the common citizen once again demonstrated that power originates from the people.  Our constitution and its framers continue to inspire awe.

Hillary Clinton wished President-elect Trump success and told her supporters they “owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”  President Obama, while announcing he had invited Trump for a meeting at the White House said, “the peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our republic” and committed to an orderly and professional transition such as he received from George W. Bush.  Again, the power of our democracy is awe inspiring.

Many are not happy with the outcome of the election.  Their values and expectations for the direction of the country have been disrupted.  Understandably, they are disappointed.  But to expect one’s views and preferences to dominate uninterrupted in a democracy is foolhardy.

President Obama has spoken several times about the trajectory or arc of history.   History is not a straight line projection.  The perfection of our union comes through the constant push and pull of our sometimes chaotic and often stressful conversation.  The process is more akin to the movement of a pendulum.

The pendulum swings to an extreme where the forces of gravity constrain it and reverse its motion toward equilibrium. Momentum causes the arm to swing beyond equilibrium to its opposite side.  But with each swing physics will diminish the extreme to which it travels.

This election reflects the force of gravity pulling the pendulum from its extreme left following eight years of a Democratic presidency in which much of the cultural, social and economic agenda of the left was implemented and tested.  Now it will swing to the right and it will pass the center of equilibrium to an undetermined, but limited point.

President Obama, three days after his first inauguration in 2009 said to Republican Congressional leaders “elections have consequences…I won.”  They do, and his legacy is about to be undone.  The Trump Administration has a tremendous opportunity to unravel much of what the Obama Administration has implemented.

The federal courts will move right with appointments of possibly three Supreme Court Justices and hundreds of lower court judges. With the stroke of a pen Trump can undo any Executive Order President Obama signed.  With a Republican legislature he can undo Obama-care.  He can diminish the power of a partisan and entrenched bureaucracy with effective political appointments and the reduction of the federal workforce inside the beltway.

The lesson for the victors is that legacies and transformative change in our society come not from ramming through legislation like Obama-care without a single opposition vote or through Executive Orders when a president fails to lead the Legislative Branch.  Long term, lasting, and permanent change come through the implementation of consensus policies - with the buy in of large swaths of the citizenry – in law.

Those disappointed by the election outcome can take comfort in knowing that gravity will limit the swing of the pendulum, but they would be wise to heed the lesson that lasting change does not result from reliance on courts, Executive Orders and laws passed along partisan lines.


  1. While I appreciate the conciliatory tone of this effort to reassure the losers, I fear that the pendulum metaphor will not assuage the anxieties of those who “cried” on the morning after. The concerns of progressives are less rooted in the alternating swing of the pendulum bob than in the fixed point to which it is necessarily attached. To progressives, the motion of change is not side-to-side but forward or, in this case, forward-and-back.
    A pendulum hangs in place endlessly swinging to and fro…with no forward motion. In a zero-sum environment, cultural progress benefitting those long-disadvantaged has been convincingly portrayed as derogating those who have historically held an underappreciated advantage; hence, the success of an appeal to restore America to a previous, familiar, status, a retrograde change. I guess going back is change of a sort but it’s not progress. A pendulum will, indeed, swing forever from its unmoving anchor…until resistance counteracts inertia. The progress of this nation, indeed of humanity, will not occur because of the oscillation of ideologies but in spite of it.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to think about and respond to this post. Your comment has me thinking more about the metaphor I used. In my pendulum metaphor I was thinking more of the ebb and flow of our political process in seeking the equilibrium point - more a condition or state, rather than a goal. The arm to which the bob is attached is a fixed point. Based on your comment I think I would change that and say that the pendulum is attached to a bi-directional ratchet that travels along a rod of infinite length. The rod represents progress in human development. As the pendulum swings the ratchet clicks - forward and backward along that rod. Using this metaphor consider that 1) progress must be defined; 2) that definition can change over time due to research, experience, or disruptive events or technology; 3) the pathway to progress is not clear; 4) "forward" and "backward" are pejorative, but should not be in this metaphor - they simply represent the churning of ideas and change over time. So I would disagree with your statement: "I guess going back is change of a sort but it's not progress." I think it is an essential step in the churning that ultimately brings "progress" for all.


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