11/18/2014 04:57 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Can America Be Saved? (Part 3) We Are Losing for Want of Seeing What's Winning

The point needs to be stressed. The status quo is not leading us where we need to go. At the level that matters most, even our "victories" are not winning the battle. We are losing at the level where, fundamentally, this battle is being fought. That's at the level of the spirit.

In the exchange I've presented between me and some dedicated Democratic activists over whether President Obama was helpless to best the GOP obstructionists (as they argued), I pointed out the hopelessness implied by their position. If the President of the United States, with all the powers at his disposal to impact the national conversation and public opinion, could not prevail in battle over that force, I said, then it would surely follow that no one else could do so either.

To that one of the truly best among my interlocutors responded that he did have hope. His hope was that 2016 (a presidential year) would bring another Democratic victory like the victory in 2008 -- the presidency and both houses of Congress.

I didn't bother, in my response, to mention the very small likelihood of the Democrats gaining control of the House -- thanks to the Republican victories in 2010 at the state level and the subsequent gerrymandering of Congressional Districts that would require the Democrats -- who got more congressional votes in 2012 than the Republicans but are still very much in the minority -- to get some 55 percent of the vote to become the majority party in the House.

Rather, I chose to make a more basic point: I argued that if my interlocutor were correct that Obama could not have prevailed over the Republicans, that "optimistic" scenario did not give much grounds for hope. If the Democrats have done the best they could with the opportunities of 2008, his "hopeful" scenario -- a repeat of those victories in 2016 -- would seem to imply a repeat of the dismal performance of our governmental system that we've had in recent years.

My interlocutor responded that he would be content if the Republicans "simply have little power to do damage."

Would that it were so. It's true, of course, that the transition from the years of the G.W. Bush presidency to the last six years of the Obama presidency (during Obama's first two years the Democrats did have a few important accomplishments) changed some things for the better. It was an improvement to go from a situation where the Republican power enabled them to do a lot of bad things to America to one where their power enables them to prevent a lot of good things from being done.

But it is far from the case that a political force that disables our political system from functioning properly has "little power to do damage."

Indeed, at the level of the battle that matters most, it seems clear to me that we are losing.

That battle is not best understood as the battle between liberal and conservative principles. Today's Republican Party can hardly be understood in terms of "conservative principles."

It is not best understood in terms of the balance of power between the Democratic and Republican Parties. That balance of power has fluctuated within the normal range. And if today's Republican Party were a normal American political party, the state of the nation would be acceptable.

But if we look deeper, we can see a shift in the balance of power that is far from normal, and is profoundly adverse:

The power of greed to shape our national destiny has increased -- including during these past six years.

The power of the lie has increased -- including during these past six years.

The power of blind rage has increased.

The power of the spirit of conflict has increased.

The power of the lust to dominate has increased.

As these adverse shifts have occurred, the prospects have dimmed for our maintaining a democracy based on our basic American values. Plutocracy -- the rule of the billionaires and of the mighty corporate system -- has gained ground.

The prospects for our being able to navigate our way wisely and constructively through the challenges we face -- including the challenge of climate disruption -- have dimmed.

And there's no sign that these adverse trends are about to stop, let alone be reversed.

In these very basic ways, it must be acknowledged: we are losing.

Does anyone here think things are going in a good direction? Does anyone feel confident that we will have hands on the helm that will steer us toward a future as good as what we have known, let alone a better future?

I see hope, but continuing the political dynamic of this era is not a sufficient basis for hopefulness. If we -- and the nation -- are losing even when we gain electoral "victories," then surely there is a need for something more than what my interlocutor envisioned (victory in 2016) if America is to be saved.

What is that "more" that has to happen? What can turn this battle around? What can we do?

To answer those questions, we have to see the battle clearly, and locate the strategic points around which the political dynamic might be shifted. That will be the task of the next installment.