Escalating political polarization reveals America’s contradictions

This is a guest post by Ann Mosy

Polarized politics characterizes American politics, with Democrats and Republicans championing the opposite ideologies. The elites of both parties and ordinary voters have therefore internalized this “binary” way of thinking and this “either-or” situation is getting intensified.  

1.Polarized politics can be traced back to the 1970s, originally referring to the party-conscious votes caused by different ideologies held within each party. Its connotation and denotation have been expanding especially since Trump won the 2016 election. This lingo “polarization” has occupied political news, editorials and publications, depicting the ever-increasing tensions between two parties across different fields. One may expect such depiction as:

First, policy inconsistency across different administrations is worsening. After taking office, new presidents will abolish the important bills passed by the presidents of another party. The first political attempt made by Trump on his first day as the president was to annul the ObamaCare, withdraw from the Obama-vouched TPP and abolish the Climate Action Plan. In Biden’s case, he approved 17 executive orders and abolished 9 policies made by the Trump administration immediately after the inauguration ceremony, some of which involved Covid-19 preventions, immigration policies, climate change, racial affair and LGBT rights protection. 

Second, the Congress has been reduced to a “colosseum” where each party stages deadly attacks on their opponents. On the one hand, in most cases of bill voting, votes have party preferences. On March 11, 2021, in a review meeting, 211 republicans voted against Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. It is also the case in the Senate. On the other hand, the majority leader, backed by funds, manipulated the government to a shut-down state and even impeached the president. The current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had advanced the impeachment process against Trump for twice. 

Third, the Democrats and the Republicans are engaging in a tug-of-war. Both parties use their dominance in different local governments to pursue interest for the party, stalling the execution of federal policies endorsed by another party. If the president in office uses executive power to bypass the Congress and to pushes a certain policy into being accepted, local governments controlled by opposition parties will either, in its most gentle form, resort to non-cooperation, or, in its most intense form, take the case to the court and use judicial power to impede the executive power. Biden’s first Executive Order National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic met stalling strategies from the Republicans. Trump’s Public Charge has met joint prosecutions from state judicial sectors controlled by the Democrats. 

Fourth, the denial of the results of the election, the legitimacy of the opponents and the open endorsement for the division of the country. Since 2016, the majority of the Democrats has been in denial of Trump’s being elected, protests and demonstrations breaking out across many states and “Not My President” plaques being presented among the demonstration parades even during the late-Trump period. What is worse is that some blue states such as California state that they want independence. After Biden won the election in 2020, furious Republican partisans took over Capitol Hill, revealing what is behind this hypocritical democratic veil.

2.Political polarization hasn’t only wreaked havoc on America, but also on the whole world. As a super economy which has a great influence on the future development of the world, America has set a bad example for the world against the backdrop of the rampaging Covid-19 and its variants, the worsening world economy and the escalated regional conflicts. The negative effects of this polarization are as follows: 

First, it jeopardizes the safety and livelihood of Americans. Since the breakout of Covid-19, mask-on policy has become highly politicalized. According to a poll, 63% of the Democratic Party supporters root for the mask-on policy in public, while the number drops to below 30% among the Republican Party supporters. This is apparently caused by the cognitive bias. Up till April 23, 2022, America has more than 80.97 million Covid-19 cases cumulatively, the number of deaths being over 1 million, a number that is two and a half times the death casualty of Americans in World War Two. America, a home for 4% of the world’s population, yet suffered 20% of the world’s death cases, which is apparently attributed to the Covid-19-related policies.

Second, it dethrones the American democracy from its elite state. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Kennedy School in 2021, Americans aged between 18 and 29 were extremely disappointed about American democracy, 52% of young people believing that American democracy is in crisis and on the verge of failure. 55% of them are worried about the future of America and only 7% of American young people believe that the democratic system is healthy. 

Third, the erratic diplomatic policies and swinging attitudes toward other countries have troubled the world. The constant clearance of the former government’s political legacy and the arbitrariness in dealing with opponents’ policies have left many countries and international organizations underprepared when negotiating with American government. Its fickle stance on such issues as climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Yemen issues, the North Korea nuclear negotiations has not only burdened other countries but also has aggravated the climate change and regional security.

3. Polarization exposed the persistent problems hidden inside. Racism, money politics and flawed system design have been nurturing polarization since the founding of America and have been made polarization worse.

First, racism as a “genetic”feature inside the political system has created and worsened polarization. The discrimination against the black people is deeply rooted in American culture. The United States Constitutional Convention (1787) stipulated that a slave was only counted for three fifths of a man. The right to vote had long been reserved only for the white people. The black people’s right to vote hasn’t been actualized until the advent of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it is this act that sets the Democratic Party and the Republican Party on two diverging directions, changes the position of each party and causes the political polarization in the Congress in the 1970s. Despite this minute improvement, it is still hard for the black people to enjoy the true equality and right. The Democrats and the Republicans take different stances on such issues as “Black Lives Matter”and even on “Zero-dollar Shopping”, which also deepens the polarization. 

Second, money politics pushes the politicians of both parties to put on a fancy show in order not to be eliminated. The money-oriented politics is the timeless feature of American’s political system. According to the media, the money spent on presidential election in 2020 and the Congress elections totaled $14.4 billion, a crazily high sum burdened not by politicians themselves. The election has become a “never-ending auction”, the campaign activities being deployed increasingly earlier than expected. More and more politicians spend time on fundraising. Only those most memorable, most extreme and most zealous politicians can won the money-grabbing game, succeed and hopefully secure several terms. 

Third, it is innately flawed. The division of electoral districts among each state is based on census, with each district appointing one representative. This system makes it easy for the state government to manipulate the results by meddling the district division, the Republicans and the Democrats becoming more geographically clustered and geopolitically polarized. Although single member and winner-takes-all system is a commonplace for America, it is rarely practiced among developed democratic countries. 

The polarization of American political system is running out of control, revealing the “genetic flaws” of the political system and the cumulative problems that are beyond repair. The Democratic leaders and the Republican leaders don’t have sufficient courage, not to say ability, to revolutionize the economy and solve the deep-seated social problems. Their diversion strategies would only leave America mired deeply in the swamp of polarization and hurt itself and the world more.

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