Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Sandy Hook, the June 14 Alexandria, Va., shooting of Republican congressmen; the list of tragic events Americans have witnessed is endless.
During troubling times our politicians and citizens come together, set aside their party affiliation and resolve conflict. But, unfortunately, the solidarity moments become short lived, and polarization picks up where it left off.
Political scientists disagree as to whether political polarization started after the Civil War’s reconstruction era, mid-1970s or early 1990s. However, all agree divisiveness is now at its zenith. With few exceptions, party-line roll call voting has become standard protocol.
About 93 percent of the voting choices during America’s 114th congressional session were along party lines — Democrats voted one way and Republicans voted the opposite. Never the twain shall meet seems to be apropos in today’s political world.
With rampant polarization, nothing worthwhile gets accomplished and status quo becomes institutionalized.
It is well documented the bulk of roll-call voting in Congress comes down to two issues: the role of government intrusion in the economy and regional differences, whether it’s rural versus urban, upper- versus lower-class or white- versus blue-collar.
The largest political survey of 10,000 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center during January-March of 2017 revealed Democrats and Republicans are further apart ideologically than at any point in history.
What has brought us to such divisiveness? Four pieces of evidence speaks volumes.
First, the typical Republican is more conservative than 94 percent of Democrats, and the median Democrat is more liberal than 92 percent of Republicans, a 20 percent increase from 20 years ago.
Second, partisan antipathy has risen. Forty-three percent of Republicans, versus 17 percent 20 years ago, have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party. Likewise, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the Republican Party has more than doubled in the past 20 years, from 15 percent to 38 percent.
Third, the percentage of independents who embrace both liberal and conservative views has shrunk from 49 percent two decades ago to 39 percent.
Finally, the most telling about why we are in the era of polarization, 62 percent of D’s and 57 percent of R’s define compromise as “their side gets more of what it wants.”
About 80 U.S. congressional delegates, half Republican and half Democrat, have formally endorsed the nonprofit organization No Labels that wants to replace the politics of partisan point-scoring with the action of productive problem-solving. They have co-sponsored 18 different pieces of bipartisan legislation.
Stop and think about this. Only 15 percent (80/535) of Congress has formally embraced the bipartisanship value.
It’s appalling 1.4 million military personnel, average age 27, put themselves in harm’s way to protect America’s democracy yet our 535 congressional delegates, average age 58, supposedly mature, behave like juveniles and put party politics before the good of our country.
What should we do about America’s political polarization albatross? First, let’s conduct an honest soul-searching assessment of both party’s platform positions and polarization record, seek out multiple and diverse sources of information to become better informed, be open to non-combative dialogue with others who view life differently and become politically active.
Secondly, let’s do a better job of vetting our Democrat and Republican candidates to determine if their values are too far left- or right-wing, or are they more moderate to bring our country back together in a more peaceful, centrist, constructive and productive manner.
America’s 325 million citizens deserve bipartisanship behavior, and it starts with you and me being a role model to our elected officials. I’m up to the challenge of political soul searching and selecting centrist pro-bipartisan politicians regardless of party affiliation. How about you?
Steve Corbin is an emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.
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