The lesson of the debt ceiling debate, no matter what the outcome, is that the United States is hopelessly divided between a liberal Left and a radical Right, a group willing to sacrifice national interests to achieve its ends. The country must either surrender to the Right's demands or accept paralysis. The economic and social consequences of this condition are disastrous.
Is this likely to change? No. The Right has successfully persuaded its core supporters, around 25 percent of the population, that: government is the problem; higher taxes mean lower economic growth; unregulated capitalism is the route to growth; concentration of wealth is no problem; the liberal Left is unpatriotic, has destroyed the country and that compromise with the Left is unproductive and wrong. The leadership of this group, Hannity, Beck, Limbaugh, Bachmann and others, are willing to say anything to create a rigid, simplistic narrative and to stir anger. The followers, loosely called Tea Partiers, are angry because of policies that they largely supported (two endless wars, two tax cuts benefiting largely the rich, unfunded programs and an increasing national debt).
The commitment to no new taxes specifically no increase of taxes for the rich, repeal of the new health care law, cuts in new infrastructure programs, and a rejection of new energy policies assures the continuation of conditions that are core to the anger: reduced middle class wealth and opportunity, increased wealth concentration, national decline. The anger, and its irrational political conclusions, many based upon unchallengeable religious views or ignorance, is thus likely to continue.
This minority is aided by constitutional checks and balances and by congressional rules such as the filibuster or the right of single senators to block appointments or even votes. The Senate itself, premised on the equality of states no matter the number of citizens, permits less than 20 percent of the population to elect 40 percent of senators, enough to prevent most legislation. The Electoral College disenfranchises 80 percent of the electorate, leaving the presidential decision to moderates in swing states, Ohio, Florida, Missouri and a handful of others. Even the Supreme Court is helping: opening the gates to unlimited corporate money in campaigns (see Citizen United v. F.E.C) institutionalizes further dominance by moneyed interests.
The international community looks on Tea Party positions with contempt, despair and schadenfreude-induced amusement -- try explaining the rejection of a national healthcare program to any non-American. If that community did not realize the power of the radical Right before this artificial debt-ceiling crisis, they sure do now. The United States has displayed itself as a helpless giant. Downgrades of all types, reflecting further American economic and social declines, will follow.