First, it's important to remember that all of this is nothing new. Mark Twain, writing in the late 19th century, took frequent shots at Congress -- "Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can," and Congressmen are "the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes," and "there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
Going back further, the nation was so divided by 1861 that more than one-third of the states opted out of the union, resulting in the Civil War. Go back more than two centuries -- when the Founding Fathers were still running the show -- and there were political games, savage personal attacks and governmental dysfunction. Don't forget that Aaron Burr, then the sitting vice president, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton (and was indicted for murder in two states) in a duel precipitated by attacks on Burr's character and politics.
The country has always had its political tensions, its unhealable divisions, its calculating demagogues, its divisive leaders, its obstructionist blocs, its fringe elements, its existential threats. The names and faces have changed -- as have the speed and breadth of communication channels -- but the machinations of those in elected office and the fickleness, and sometimes foolishness, of the general public remain intact.
While no one is happy that the nation's unemployment rate is hovering close to double-digits, a look at the dramatic slowing of job losses in the past year would seem to indicate that Obama's economic policies are on the right track, yet polls show people increasingly unhappy with the president. The mainstream media allows the discussion to be dominated by cranks like Sarah Palin, who seems absolutely incapable of rendering even a single truth constructed as a complete sentence, and Dick Cheney, who is clearly wishing, hoping and praying for a massive terrorist attack on American soil so he can say that he told us so. (Oh, and what was his job during the last massive terrorist attack on American soil?)
As for what the people want -- Who can tell? I agree with a recent piece in The New Yorker by James Surowiecki, which says:
...this new populism has stitched together incompatible concerns and goals into one “I’m mad as hell” quilt. The people may have spoken. It’s just not clear that they’re making any sense.