What should be a national celebration of democracy and the peaceful transition of power instead has become a day that portrays a deeply divided country. If your candidate won, you feel a smug satisfaction at having prevailed. If your candidate was defeated, fear, anger and disbelief mark your anticipation of the next four years.
Perhaps we’ve always been divided as a country. The differences may have been less apparent before the information age made our ways as people instantly visible and subject to relentless interpretation. Perhaps there never before was a communications medium to make the depth and breadth of the division known as vividly as it is today.
Maybe it’s always been so, but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a division has become a chasm without a bridge to cross it. We live on one side or the other of nearly every social issue. It’s us-and-them at every turn. There’s no middle ground.
There isn’t much of a comfort level, either, in choosing one’s camp. Too often, the positions that attracted us are quickly overshadowed by a slew of policies and positions we may not agree with but have to accept if we want to keep our place at the campground. There’s not much room to maneuver in a culture of extreme polarization.
We wonder if there might be a way to build bridges? Since politics is the subject, let’s give some thought to whether our two party system might be part of the problem. It is classically winner-take-all these days and drastically emblematic of the most rigid opposition.
Nobody reaches across the aisle in Congress anymore unless they want to risk loosing their arm. If your party is in power, you ram through your agenda. If you’re in the minority, you obstruct that agenda with a vengeance. Statesmanship has always been in short supply. These days it’s an endangered species.
It’s long since been said: if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Today, you should get a vicious one because everyone plays for keeps. In that small Southern town, gentility and hospitality, what little is left, are reserved for allies in your party and only as long as they toe the party line.
This most recent election cycle has spurred a lot of debate about the Electoral College and whether it should be replaced by a simple popular vote. That may be a subject for discussion, but not in this setting. Nothing about such a change would have an impact on polarization in politics.
But, there is a question worth asking if we want to stay on subject. What would our political landscape look like if we had truly representative government, a parliamentary democracy, instead of a two-party system? What if the make-up of Congress reflected the percentage of votes each candidate received?
There would be many aisles rather than one, which suggests a step in the right direction. Many poles representing many different positions on the issues. Less like magnetism and more like pockets of gravitational pull.
Communist, Conservative, Evangelical, Green, Labor, Liberal, Libertarian, Peace, Progressive, Socialist, and on and on, Maybe a few old time Rs and Ds in there somewhere, too. Sounds like chaos, doesn’t it?
One advantage of such a system is that by its nature it diffuses power. To gain a majority on any given issue, deals must be brokered, often among the strangest of bedfellows. It lessens the likelihood that one party can dominate the entire legislative agenda. It rewards the politician who can understand another’s position in the matter and find a way to make it work with one’s own.
There is something in that process of give and take that reveals our common humanity and makes our differences more palatable. It would be a legislative body more similar in the way it works to modern business and the non-profit world, places where negotiated collaboration and teamwork are keys to success.
Politics is the science of people. Our current political system is failing to bring us together; rather, it’s driving us further apart. That’s unhealthy for society and for our nation. Perhaps it’s time to consider trying something new and different. What’s the worst that could happen? The bar for improvement right now is remarkably low.