“Legitimacy” means a widespread feeling that the government’s rule is rightful, even if you dislike the party in power. Without legitimacy, countries fall apart, the fate of many developing lands, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Uncivil U.S. partisans snarl hatred and ignore patriotism, fair play or constructive criticism, not realizing or caring that they delegitimize the entire system. How do you preserve a country where one half hates the other half?

Senator McCain (R-Arizona) stated that he’d block any Supreme Court nomination Hillary might make, regardless of merit. So much for the Republican insistence in March that we wait until the election produces a new president before considering any nominee for the court. A few months’ delay could turn into years.

A short-staffed SCOTUS is not necessarily paralyzed. As long as they deliver five concurring votes, SCOTUS speaks with as much authority as nine votes. And Republicans badly want some decisions that lack five votes to reverse lower federal court rulings knocking out states’ voter-suppression laws. If not overturned, the “liberal” rulings stand. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) just gleefully announced that he has enough material for two years of investigations of Hillary. (Reminds one of McCarthy’s growl: “No one is above an investigation.”) In early 2009, Sen. McConnell (R-Kentucky) vowed that his sole purpose was to make Obama a one-term president. Now the Republicans seem committed to making this effort permanent.

And these are “responsible” Republicans, who, to their credit, have distanced themselves from Trump. Fulfilling his campaign promises, a President Trump would indict Hillary, cow the media by lawsuits, and balloon budget deficits by simultaneously cutting taxes while boosting defense spending. If he loses, his charges of “rigging” will poison U.S. politics for years and will be turned against a Republican election victory someday.

The latest Republican outpouring illuminates the historical pattern. They have raged at most Democratic presidents: FDR, Truman, Carter and Bill Clinton, but Obama and Hillary get extra venom. Republicans often win by evoking deep American values of white Christianity, guns, individual responsibility and minimal government.

The Democrats used to be based on the working class in seeking social-support programs. But now fewer than one in eight American workers are unionized — many in public-sector unions — and much of the white working class has migrated to the Republicans. In their place, the Demo-crats draw the educated and minority and gender groups, too fragmented to assemble coherent reform programs. 

Thomas Edsall in the New York Times sees an “inversion” of long-standing voter alignments in 2016. Upscale and educated whites abandon Republican attachments and move to the Democrats as the white, non-college working class moves the other way. If this shift holds, it will be the latest of periodic electoral re-alignments that punctuate American history. 

The trouble is, if this just perpetuates the current trend to delegitimization, it severely weakens the nation. A paralyzed country — as much of Europe is today — is a weak country. Britain’s Labour Party seems to have a death wish. France’s Hollande — like his predecessor Sarkozy — is terribly unpopular and sure to be voted out. Spain’s parliament is perfectly deadlocked. Throughout Europe, Trump-like anti-immigrant and anti-EU parties grow.

There’s little we can do to make our federal government function. Badly needed tax reform, infrastructure repair, and the tweaking of Obamacare will not be touched. K Street will continue to limit reforms in Congress. But, some ask, hasn’t Washington always been marked by uncivil partisanship? It has, but — except for the Civil War — we maintained overall system legitimacy. Loss of legitimacy opens the path to national decline.

If Hillary wins but the Republicans keep the House we face continued executive-legislative paralysis. Several Republicans offer imaginative proposals for various problem areas that minimize bureaucracy and maximize efficiency, but they are ignored by their own party leadership. One of the few fully functional federal agencies is the Federal Reserve Board, precisely because it’s insulated from politics.

Lord knows we need a good conservative party to correct and contain the follies of Washington’s continual expansion that both parties foster. One of the biggest and most expensive departments now is Bush’s Homeland Security. Its utility is dubious. If the Republicans cannot fundamentally reorganize and rededicate their party, they should found a new one, as they did in 1854.

Walter Lippmann’s 1914 “Drift and Mastery” (written when he was 24!) is newly relevant. Are we drifting into paralysis and decline? We await a party or leader who can transcend our current petty quarrels, but none is on the horizon. (Lippmann, after a lifetime of embracing and dropping political heroes, finally learned better.) 

One longs for an Olympian figure like de Gaulle, whom Lippmann praised and Nixon tried to emulate, with disastrous results. But such heroes, aside perhaps from Lincoln, are not in the Amer-ican grain. No, a unifying American leader will be no Olympian above the fray but a charismatic pragmatist who can compromise and make deals. Without one, we will continue to slide.