Is Extreme Polarity the New Normal?

October 11, 2018

 

With the midterm elections looming, we will soon find out whether our country will be moving further toward the poles as voters head to the polls.  Has the antagonism and divisiveness of the past several years inclined us back toward the center or toward ever increasing extremes?

 

On the heels of one of the most contentious weeks in American politics in recent history, many Americans are tired of the polarization that has come to characterize our political and social discourse.  They see the costs of extreme adverserialism in the degradation of civility, the cheapening of revered institutions, the compromise of objectivity, and the inability to move forward in the face of stalemate and uncompromising obstructionism.  They hope for more centrist candidates who will work to cross the aisle and restore a sense of national unity and collaboration.

 

In contrast to those who desire this shift back toward the center, many other Americans have followed the more radical representatives of their parties even further afield.  In reaction and resistance to their ideological counterparts, they have grown increasingly entrenched and decreasingly interested in rapprochement.  Partisan lines have been pushed away from center field so that there seems to be a significant gulf between the two sides and little to no territory where they meet or overlap.

 

Which of these constituencies will carry the midterms?  Can we look forward to a return to a more respectful and cooperative diplomacy, or a continued march toward division and hostility?

 

In his recent article “November’s Battle Between Right and Left Will Be a Preview of 2020” in the New York Post, author Jonathan Tobin suggests that we are in for more of the same.  Examining the gubernatorial primary results in two highly contested states, Florida and Georgia, he points out that “both pit extremely conservative Republicans against very liberal Democrats.”

 

Rather than selecting nominees who veer toward the center with the potential to draw from moderates on the other side of the aisle, both Floridians and Georgians have selected candidates who are more radical than their predecessors and who make no pretense of attempting to unite competing factions.  Republican Representative Ron DeSantis will be facing the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum in Forida, and Republican Brian Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Adams in Georgia.  

 

“It’s not just that all four are poorly positioned to claim the center,” Tobin writes. “All of them are acting as if the center — the place where conventional wisdom has always told us that elections are won — no longer exists.”  Appealing to the more strident elements of their party base, the two Democrats and the two Republicans aim to win by mobilizing the extremes rather than building consensus.

 

The point of Tobin’s article is that these two races, with two Trump-like Republicans facing two progressive minority democrats, will provide a decent predictor of the presidential race in 2020.   But regardless of the midterm results, if Florida and Georgia are an indication for the rest of the country, then we need not wait to see who wins to know that civility and bi-partisanship are continuing to lose.

 

The questions remaining, then, are 1) how long will Americans allow the more contentious voices to dominate the conversation and dictate our political future, and 2) what can be done now to promote better communication and more collaborative candidates who are concerned more with the good of the entire populace than they are with whipping up their base?

 

While the answer to the former question remains to be seen, we will be more likely to minimize that time by promoting and publicizing the answers to the latter question.  There are a number of organizations that are working to bridge the divides in our country.  These include Better Angels, Bridge Alliance, Listen First Project, Living Room Conversations, The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, The National Institute for Civil Discourse, The Village Square, All Sides, and many others which together comprise the burgeoning Bridging Movement.  

 

Common Party is committed to providing a gateway to this bridging movement.  We have just relaunched our site to host links and information about various organizations and opportunities, as well as news and updates on bridging activity around the country.  

 

If extreme polarity is indeed the new normal, then those of us who are interested in bringing America back together will need to work together to provide a viable alternative, to bolster the center, and to promote and publicize opportunities to rebuild and rebond.

 

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