Is A Governing Consensus Possible in America?


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

In this third installment of our conversation with Jerry Brown, the former California governor ponders the unraveling of the founding idea of American exceptionalism: “e pluribus unum” — “from the many, one.”

The 1950s and early 1960s in California were a period of political consensus in which a Republican governor, Earl Warren (who went on to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), and Jerry’s father and Democratic governor, Pat Brown, were able to raise gas taxes to modernize and extend the state’s road system; muster the resources and plan decades ahead to expansively build out the largest public higher education system in the world; and construct Pharaonic-scale canals to transport water from the verdant north through the thirsty agricultural Central Valley to the parched south.

In those days, as Brown points out, the state had only 17 million people, who were largely culturally homogenous. Today, California has a population of 40 million. How does one govern this vast cacophony of voices and welter of conflicting interests swimming in a deluge of contested information which places so many diverse constituencies at odds? This is a question for all of America, in which California, as the extreme case, is also its essence.