Political Polarization

In America, politics used to be known as “the art of the compromise”. Politicians would work with each other for the good of the nation. President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neal were political opponents but personal friends who would meet for dinner and drinks.

When Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, he learned the bully’s lesson that your cause can improve by belittling the opposition. Negative attacks work in a two party, winner takes all, zero sum, system. Newt’s Political Action Committee (GOPAC), mailed a pamphlet entitled “Language, A Key Mechanism of Control” to Republicans across the country. This taught Republicans how to demonize Democrats and describe them and their policies in the worst terms, while describing their own positions in glowing terms. The GOP learned this lesson well and they became masters of deceitful propaganda. The hate speech has become more extreme each year, until now they have spawned the Frankenstein monster of Trump  who threaten to destroy the party.

Two months ago David Brooks wrote about one of the most dangerous concepts in the world. Pathological Moral Dualism (PMD) is the concept that your side/team/party/religion is right and that all others are wrong. It becomes pathological when people don’t care who gets hurt and are willing to do anything to further their cause. It is dangerous when sociopaths gain power. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, and Bin Laden were all tyrants who killed millions of those “others”.

These fanatics who practice PMD are especially dangerous when they believe that they can bully their way with the muzzle of a gun, like the Bundies. Many in the GOP would prefer second Amendment solutions over democracy to get their way, so they gerrymander and suppress votes.

The GOP has purged itself of any moderates who are willing to work with Democrats and cooperation has become a dirty word. They believe that the good is the enemy of the perfect if it compromises their ideology. The leading GOP candidates specialize in fear mongering and promote PMD. They would rather sabotage the economy and harm the nation than allow President Obama or other Democrats a victory.

Progressives are also guilty of dualism because they think that conservatives are responsible for most of the problems in the world, but the difference is that they don’t want to hurt anyone else, and they are willing to compromise and cooperate to get things done.

Demographically only about 20%  of Americans associate with conservative Republicans, 27% associate with liberal Democrats, and 42% think of themselves as Independents who may be socially  progressive and fiscally conservative or visa versa. Anyone who wants to solve the problems in the nation and the rest of the world should only vote for representatives who are willing to compromise for the good of the Nation. The next leader of the country should not only be concerned with pleasing their radical base. They should work for bipartisan solutions that help the vast majority in the middle class.

Our two party system has become increasingly dysfunctional. Because contributions come from activists, and because gerrymandering has isolated dissenting voices, each party caters to their extremes and become ever more radical. They no longer can compromise, they can only bully or obstruct. One party eventually overreaches and abuses their power and then they are overthrown and then the other party has their turn at overreaching and abusing their power. Anything in between becomes partisan gridlock with little getting done.

It appears that 45% of the people are now saying a pox upon both your houses. The majority of people in this country are not divided between liberals and conservatives. Some people prefer liberal social policies and conservative fiscal policies and for others the reverse is true. The majority of people are politically moderate but they are disenfranchised because their views are not represented in Congress.

In America we have many parties but if you vote for any but the two major parties, your vote is a spoiler vote which might elect the worst candidate. Think of how votes for Ralph Nader enabled the conservative George Bush to be declared president even though liberals received far more votes.

Another impediment is that all of the states determine their own party registration requirements and many states have laws that discriminate against third parties. It is so difficult in Georgia that there has never been a third party candidate that has made it to the ballet since the rules were made in 1943. Another problem is that elections cost so much now and the big money boys are only willing to invest in the major parties.The rules should be the same for everyone in all of the states.

In most nations the Parliamentary system allows for proportional representation. This fosters cooperation because members of all of the parties must cooperate to form alliances to govern. It also minimizes polarization because each party has something to contribute.

The best way to fix America’s broken system would be to allow multiple parties with public financing, and to allow proportional representation and preferential voting. In preferential voting you vote for your first three choices with three points going to your favorite, two points to your second choice, and one point for your third choice. The one with the most points wins. When one side has apples and the other oranges, fruit salad usually wins. This forces each party to cater to the center. Each party would be forced to compromise and form alliances, and each party would thus move to the center and encourage moderation instead of extremism. It would force government to actually get things done. There would be no more gridlock.

We also need to change the processes in government so we can start getting things done as soon as possible. Senator Jeff Merkley has been trying to reform the filibuster so the Senate can get back to work.

The filibuster was originally designed to allow the minority party some influence to minimize polarization. The Constitution clearly states that except for a few stated exceptions, all laws and decisions should be decided using a simple majority. But today the filibuster requires a de-facto super majority vote to get anything done.

When each new Senate session begins they can determine the rules and how they operate and they can eliminate the filibuster. If the Senate decides that something should be done using a simple majority vote, but if the minority objects to the majority plan, they could vote for the best of three plans using preferential voting.

But we need more. Any contentious issue, like the budget, or tax reform, should be resolved by a “supercommittee”. The last one failed, because they were evenly matched which perpetuated the hyperpartisan gridlock. As a result we were stuck with the sequester, the worst budget both sides could think of.

If we started using the best of three instead of the filibuster and then used the same method for contentious issues, eventually we might resolve all issues using similar methods. If representatives worked with each other to find the best plans for the good of the nation rather than the good of the party they would demonize each other less.

If the rules were made to encourage cooperation rather than competition, then civility might return and people might actually work for the good of the country rather than spending half their time trying to make the opposition look bad.

Why is there Polarization in Congress 1 min.


Political Polarization in the US Joe Klein 17 min.


Political polarization and Inequality 1 min


What You Can Do About Political Polarization 11 min.


About altruist1

I am a raging progressive and a writer. I received Bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Arts with a Secondary teaching certificate and a minor in Physics. I taught for about ten years, then did various jobs including welding,fabrication and traffic engineering, and am now retired. I am interested in science, energy, the environment, and architecture.
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