Shakespeare, as always, was right. "Rancor will out," he said, and recent events are certainly proving him correct.
It seems the only common spark to the wars suddenly igniting in so many distant places involves age-old hatreds. Centuries may pass, but time doesn't cool the ancient passions, nor does it ease the intractability of the problems. Persians are still fighting with their neighbors for primacy in the Moslem world, Jews are still battling Palestinians to the death. Even the British and Argentinians found themselves locked in combat again over forlorn pieces of rock that should have been relegated to the deepest recesses of national memory, if not forgotten entirely.
Aside from historic enmities, these unfolding news developments have another common denominator. They reinforce the idea that events are out of control. But there is a deeper connection, and a more troubling common phenomenon.
It bears directly on the present political situation in the United States.
By timely coincidence, this weekend marks the publication of a provocative political analysis by Horace W. Busby. It ought to be must reading in Washington and among policymakers elsewhere.
Busby, the former Lyndon B. Johnson White House aide and political consultant who precisely called the outcome of the 1980 presidential election, writes in the latest "Public Affairs Review" about what he calls "the hidden agenda" facing American politics in the 1980s. I was especially struck with his words describing the similarity between what the United States faces and what also now is occurring outside our borders.
"Since the 1960s," he writes, "governments everywhere, West and East, have begun not to work. Governments in Asia, Africa, Latin America and even in the wealthy states of the Middle East are not succeeding. Neither are the governments in Great Britain and Western Europe, in Israel and Egypt, or in Bloc nations, such as Poland and Cuba. Growing evidence suggests that government is faltering in the U.S.S.R."
He goes on to say:
"Political thinkers advance much conjecture about this phenomenon. Commonly, the increase in energy costs during the 1970s is held responsible. Others attribute the failings to the inability of modern states to sustain, concurrently, the costs of their defense and the costs of their social commitments. Some pursue the thesis that the mal-performance stems from concept; that today's governing systems, mostly structured by 18th and 19th century designs, are inadequate and irrelevant to the tasks which democratic governments must address in the 20th and 21st centuries.
"To remain pragmatic, though, one commonality is present, even among governments of widely divergent philosophies: whether installed democratically or otherwise, the governing regimes, in virtually all instances, are proving unable to establish or hold a consensus of support among the governed."
To Busby this troubling fact stands at the heart of the same political conditions confronting the United States. He makes these points:
* Since 1965, neither major party has been able to succeed itself after two terms in the White House. Just two years ago, for the first time in this century, the incumbent political party was unable to continue its presidency beyond a single term.
* Control of the White House changed between the parties in three of the last four presidential elections. This, he says, is "a pattern without precedent in our political history." And, he adds, "The American presidency has become the least stable office of national leadership among the industrial democracies."
* Neither of the major American political parties has been able to win a majority of the cumulative popular vote through the six elections since 1960. And "although during that span both parties have won their largest White House victories, the Democrats in 1964 and the Republicans in 1972, neither has been able to consolidate or perpetuate those mandates. Each party lost the presidency at the next election, four years later."
Out of all this Busby concludes with the startling remark that "the United States is presently without a governing majority." And that inevitably raises the question of how well our political system can function without such a clear political majority.
As Busby notes, the public agenda facing the nation this decade is easily discernible. It involves such things as truly addressing, and resolving, the great budget deficits that threaten to sink an already sorely burdened country with another half-a-trillion-dollars worth of new debt to be accumulated in just the next few years.
Almost equally important, for the long run, is the task of remedying the approaching disaster of the imminent bankruptcy of the Social Security system.
Nor can long-overdue rebuilding of the nation's so-called public plant be postponed. That is, the nation's system of highways, bridges, streets, sewers and power systems that have been allowed to fall into a state of alarming decay. As Busby says, some authoritative estimates put the cost of restoring this indispensable national infrastructure at the mind boggling sum of $3 trillion, just about the present size of the entire U.S. economy.
These, and other major national questions, remain crucial for American policymakers. Even more critical is the ability of the political process to respond to them. That constitutes the real "hidden agenda" for Americans in this difficult decade. And it is there that recent performance raises grave doubts about the basic functioning of the political process.
To quote Busby again: "For a decade or longer, that process has been sending disquieting signals of imminent malfunctions. With neither political party able to establish a governing majority, the institutions within the system are tending to paralysis, unable to address or deal successfully with an increasing number of decisions critical to orderly governance."
As events around the world keep demonstrating these days, we are not alone in facing that sort of problem. That may be some consolation, but not much.