01 Nov The Widening Partisan Divide
TLR’s mission is to bridge the growing partisan divide by inspiring discussion and, hopefully, a dollop of bipartisanship that leads to a degree of resolution. The goal is to raise awareness and stimulate thought by highlighting challenging realities that should be, but often are not, the focus of two-Party dialog. With the potential for a self-destructive downward spiral in America’s democracy, now is a time when that dialog is most needed.
There’s no single cause for the partisan problems America currently is facing during this Election Year, Covid-19 Year, and natural disaster Year …, and no easy solutions. However, today’s political quagmire brings to mind a memorable line from “Back to Future Part II,” when Doc Martin alerts Marty McFly to the core of the plot: “It’s your kids, Marty. Something’s gotta be done about your kids!” Today, “It’s the politicians, America. Something’s gotta be done about America’s political leadership” – leadership of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Inspirational leadership is sorely lacking … and America needs effective leadership from statesmen/stateswomen who can encourage Americans with their unique strategic and policy insights, their passion, and their personalities.
Election Day is two days away and no one can be certain what the outcome will be … or even when it will be. There is no enthusiastic majority for either candidate …, and neither is deserving of much enthusiasm. TLR previously addressed the Election in “It’s All About That Base” (https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/its-all-about-that-base/) and, in early October, in “Predicting the Outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election” (https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/predicting-the-outcome-of-the-u-s-presidential-election/). Whichever candidate wins, whoever is inaugurated as President on January 20th, will be faced with the widest of partisan rifts, a layered set of chasms so broad and deep that chilling analogies have been drawn to pre-Civil War America. That partisan divisiveness has thrust America into what some believe is an existential crisis. Few doubt that historians will tag Election/Covid-19/natural disaster Year 2020 as among the most perilous in American history. Peaceful protests for social change have sparked armed opposition and rioting, looting and vigilante shootings. Gun sales are at an all-time high with more than 1.6 guns sold in September alone, a 61% increase from September 2019. George Floyd’s death was followed by further examples of excessive police violence force, adding jet fuel to growing urban and racial fires …, fires that, as California’s 2020 forest fires have shown, often burn out-of-control. Law enforcement is on its heels – in addition to highly-publicized cases of police excess, the pandemic has prevented officers from adequately addressing the violence by making it impossible to arrest the many lawbreakers without compounding public health problems. Meanwhile, the media have brought the horrors of Covid-19 into America’s living rooms – a grim reminder of the Vietnam War footage that changed America in the 1960s –, while Covid-19 itself, enforced lockdowns, hurricanes, and record-breaking fires have created devastating economic dislocations. While America seethes with the 5Ds of death, disruption, dysfunction, discontent and division, China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba and others – those seeking to displace, replace or reduce American alliances and influence – revel in the disorder, destruction and distraction …, and are taking advantage both of international opportunities in America’s former spheres of influence and of America’s domestic unrest (primarily through the use of social media) to further disrupt America … and the Election.
Democrats and Republicans have not suddenly become polarized extremists. Little besides the bombast has changed over the last 60 years … in either Party’s policies or platforms. The left-leaning Democratic Party has not adopted socialism … and the right-leaning Republican Party has not embraced fascism. A lot, however, has changed in the rhetoric and its social media delivery system (to paraphrase Ludwig Wittgenstein, “The limits of language limit peoples’ worlds”). There have always been socialists on the Democratic Party’s far left fringe – though most Americans on the far left chose to join political movements-of-the-fringe. Socialists remain a small minority in the Democratic Party. And there have always been fascists on the Republican Party’s far right fringe – though most Americans on the far right previously chose to remain outside that fringe. They, like their socialist cousins, are a small minority of the Republican Party. Those percentages haven’t changed … in either Party. Although both Parties strive for inclusiveness by appealing to those on their fringes who have more radical views – the more votes, the better –, that’s been a tactic, not a policy change. What doing so has created, however, is fodder for their partisan opponents, a means to disparage and denigrate, with Republican politicians inaccurately labeling the Democratic Party as “socialist” and Democrats inaccurately labeling the Republican Party as “fascist.” The Democratic Party is neither Antifa nor populated by “far left terrorists,” and the Republican Party does not create its majorities from the ranks of the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, neo-Nazis, QAnon and violent racists. Instead, as The Economist (among others) has explained, the Democratic Party’s platform is a reasonable left-of-center plan targeted at reducing income inequality and restoring economic growth, proposing none of the policies urged by the far left (although making adroit, inclusive use of its labels). On the other side of the aisle, because there is no Republican Party platform in 2020 – for the first time since the formation of the Party in 1856 –, the Trump Administration’s tactics, tweets and actions have provided fertile ground for accusations of incipient autocracy. Among other things, Democrats have expressed concerns about President Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists, his endorsement of wacky birther QAnon conspiracy theories, his boosting of anti-government protests by tweeting (among other things) “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia” and “Liberate Michigan,” praising as “good people” the armed protesters who invaded Lansing’s capitol building, and criticizing Michigan Governor Whitmer for requiring mask-wearing (“lock her up” is but one of the milder threats he has made against opponents) rather than condemning her alleged abductors (“maybe” they weren’t the problem), all of which encourage violence violent right-wing extremism, historically a hallmark of fascism. And, yet, that is neither the philosophy nor the practice at the core of Republicanism.
The amplified name-calling, the earsplitting extremism, instead is coming from and beyond the fringes of both political Parties, admittedly a challenge for a clear-hearing person to differentiate and distinguish from the voices of the mostly-silent majority. That’s due in large part to the fact that extremists today have a social media and Fox Network megaphone, which they skillfully use to drown out the great middle …, and, yes Virginia, there is a great middle, a Muted Majority. The Democratic Party is not dominated by “far leftists.” The Republican Party is not dominated by “fascists.” The extremist labeling, unfortunately for democracy, has been picked up and sold by politicians and their facilitators as “Truth” to a unfair percentage of the electorate.
That’s not only a challenge for media. It’s a challenge for America …, and it arises from a virtual vacuum in capable American leadership.
At a time not so long ago and in an America not so far away, American politicians sought office because they had a sense of high public purpose. They believed they had a duty to serve America and that America had a duty to serve both its people and the world. Think Kennedy and Ford and Reagan and Bush I. That’s less not true of politicians today. Today’s politicians seek elective office for the perks …, and for power and prestige. Their goal is to hang onto those 3 Ps – perks, power and prestige – for as long as possible rather than to contribute innovative ideas and honest sweat to Americans’ welfare … and then to turn over the
reigns reins of government to those with better innovative ideas and the desire to work even harder for America’s interests. That explains why they gerrymander to cement their control, spend the majority of their working days raising campaign funds for their next election, and divide the minority of their time between campaigning and family … and government work. Their so-called principles vary with the winds that blow past their constituents – whatever it takes to get themselves reelected. Those aren’t “principles.” While simultaneously painting Democrats with the broad brush of socialism, Republican principles have atrophied as they have built the size and reach of government ever larger. Building a larger State, intervening in private enterprise, and placing constraints on commerce and trade is properly labeled “Statism,” which is a branch of socialist thinking that both the Republican and Democratic Parties recently have embraced (see https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/capitalism-vs-socialism-the-false-dichotomy/). Statism defines Democratic Party philosophy, marking little difference between the recent big-government practices of the Republican Party and leaving virtually no room for innovative policy-making …, although it does establish a broad common-ground for bipartisan legislating …, but only if there’s two-Party leadership with a will to do so.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, in adjourning the Senate on October 27th, said that the American people had given the Republican Party the power to choose Supreme Court justices by giving Republicans the Presidency and a Senate majority, and that the Republican Party had properly exercised that power in a Constitutionally permissible way. He was right. That is how democracy works … and that is how America needs to work in the hands of whichever Party wins on Tuesday. Whether the winner is President Trump or Vice President Biden, America needs a strong, inclusive leader to pursue a coherent set of policies – whether left-of-center or right-of-center (recognizing that America is centrist) – and, at the same time, finding ways to bridge the ever-widening partisan divide. Biden assures Americans that this is his intention … and Trump should have no further reelection reason not to do so. Each should pay close attention to the lessons taught by Abraham Lincoln, which he so memorably recited in his Gettysburg Address. As the Civil War was coming to a bloody and terribly divisive close, he urged conciliation, doing so from a position of overwhelming power: “Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged…. With malice towards none; with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to … bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle …, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Amen.
Finally (from a good friend)