Published: Dec. 21, 2020

Unlike the nation’s oscillations in political orientation, an actual pendulum moves regularly and predictably along an established and consistent trajectory. It can never swing too far, since the rope or chain on which it hangs has a defined length. A pendulum cannot swing wildly since it moves from one knowable point to another knowable point. And perhaps most important, the swings of a pendulum shorten in length over the passage of time.

If that bears any similarity to the movements and migrations of political opinion in the United States in recent years, I need help in finding that resemblance.

In other words, a pendulum that took to swinging around wildly and unpredictably in the manner of American political transitions would need to be quickly put under restraint for the protection of public safety and might even require a reappraisal of Newtonian physics.

Can we find an analogy or comparison that makes a better fit?

Maybe a tetherball, punched and pummeled and free to swing in all directions? Or maybe even a tetherball that sometimes disconnects from its mooring (a.k.a. rope and pole) and skitters around the playground in a pattern that no one can chart?

Or maybe a pinball in a machine would make a better fit, launched at high momentum and dispatched in multiple directions as it bounces off various surfaces?

If so, do we have somewhere among us a figure who is political science’s equivalent to Tommy, the Pinball Wizard?  As The Who sang of Tommy, “How do you think he does it? What makes him so good?”

Maybe, even as we stay on the lookout for the Pinball Wizard who could emerge from among us, ready to make sense of the seemingly chaotic dynamism shaping our world, the more practical plan would be to champion the pendulum as the analogy we actually want.  Maybe the time has come to put everything we have into figuring out how we can reconfigure the nation’s political shifts to match the pendulum’s regular, measured, even soothing swings.

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