CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When brewing coffee, one can leave the heat on too long. For quite a while there is little problem -- the brew slowly turns more bitter as evaporation progresses. If the pot is disregarded for hours, the brew becomes undrinkable and will eventually turn into a charred and stinking solid brown coating.
There is a possibility that our political situation is undergoing a similar process. We have two apparently evenly matched political parties, but one is slowly, but apparently inexorably, losing power.
In terms of racial and ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites are in relative decline; in religious terms, seculars ("nones") are on the rise; young people replace the dying old; more rural folks are moving into cities; and the gay community and its sympathizers are growing. All of these slow-moving trends militate toward helping the Democratic Party.
In terms of political policies people who worry about gun violence outnumber gun freedom advocates; people who support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (when they know what it really is about) outnumber those who oppose it, and a majority prefers government focus on jobs rather than deficit reduction. Finally, those who think climate change is an urgent but solvable problem (the so called "reality based community") are now in the majority. Again it is the Democrats who are gaining from these preferences.
In terms of economics, U.S. voters have now some idea that what is good for the wealthy is not good for the poor -- and the poor are more numerous. Mobilizing lower class voters has always been a challenge but there are now mediating groups that load vans full of usually indifferent citizens to take them from church to polling place.
Any election will, of course, tend to turn on the state of the economy but here, too, the Democrats seem be a bit ahead: Since Wall Street shenanigans are connected in the public mind with the Republican brand, that party is not trusted. And, in any case, plunging natural gas prices should keep the economy from disaster for a while.
The stage is set for the Democrats to advance popular initiatives; if the Republicans manage to block them then in the long run, they lose even more support; if enough Republican votes can be peeled away to pass a popular bill, Democrats will get most of the credit. This may indeed already be happening with gun control and immigration.
Let us keep in mind however that this party contains both the fanatics at the Project for the New American Century and the wing nuts who consider assault weapons objects of sexualized veneration. Playing by the rules may not be a major concern for them.
The Republican's "coffee" has already reached quite a bitter stage and the charred, stinking solid mass phase may be coming into sight (or smell). But even this unhappy eventuality may not represent the final denouement -- overcooking the coffee for days could cause a short circuit and burn down the whole house.
Palmer, of Charleston, is retired and is a substitute teacher.