Jim Chrisinger: “Polarized” sounds like both sides becoming more extreme. That’s not what’s happening. One party is jeopardizing America’s 245-year grand experiment in self-government. -promoted by Laura Belin
We continually hear that our country is polarized. That implies symmetry; it gives the impression that Americans are moving farther apart on a left-right axis. The left and right each become more extreme while the middle thins. We keep hearing politicians, pundits, and journalists claim “both sides” are responsible for this polarization.
That’s not what’s happening, people!
Yes, each party has extremists; that’s nothing new. What’s new is that one party, the Republican party, has veered off the political continuum. They’ve sailed off a cliff.
Republicans have taken stands — or have assented and encouraged by remaining silent — that have nothing to do with liberal or conservative policy positions. These positions are simply anti-democratic and anti-American.
There’s so much evidence to choose from, but let’s focus on five egregious challenges:
Not defending our 2016 elections against Russian meddling. With few exceptions, Republicans went along with Donald Trump’s denials after it was clearly shown that the Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails and used them against her and ginned up social media to boost Trump, harm Hillary and Democrats, and undermine our elections in general. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, delivered to a Russian intelligence contact the Trump campaign’s data and analysis on key battle ground states, which enabled the Russians to better target their efforts. Republicans refused to defend American sovereignty.
Perpetuating Trump’s Big Lie. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election, which was free and fair. Sixty-some court cases, including Trump-appointed judges, and election officials of both parties across all fifty states validated the election. Republicans’ continued complicity in denying Trump’s loss — and lending support to Trump’s wild claims about fraud and manipulation — led to January 6 and threaten to undermine every election we will now hold. Ominously, the new Georgia election law gives their legislature a means to intervene to overturn election results. It’s hard to think of anything more damaging to our democracy.
Suppressing votes and gerrymandering. In the face of demographics, Republican leaders had to make a choice. They could have expanded their agenda and messaging to reach beyond white, Christian, xenophobic, and homophobic grievance and big business/the wealthy to attract more voters. Instead, in state after state, the party has doubled down on myriad ways to suppress votes and gerrymander districts. The GOP has been doing this for years, but perpetuating the Big Lie has supercharged their efforts.
Flouting the rule of law. Where to start? Ignoring Congressional subpoenas; obstructing justice; using the Department of Justice to protect Trump, reward friends, and punish enemies; interfering in Inspector General investigations; wrongly spending Congressional appropriations; refusing to submit to Senate “advise and consent” for high-level appointments; and repeatedly violating the Hatch Act.
Rejecting truth and objective facts. This one may cause the most damage in the long run because it’s hard for people to return to truth after mass immersion in fear, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. “Fake news,” “the deep state,” and science denial undermine our ability to constructively debate problems and find solutions, the beating heart of democracy. As George Orwell wrote in his prescient book, 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Again, none of these five challenges has anything to do with conservative or liberal policy. I oppose just about all of the right’s culture war agenda, but that is arguably about policy. We should debate and may the most votes win.
No, we are not “polarized.” One party is jeopardizing America’s 245-year grand experiment in self-government. History will judge each of us for what we do now.
Jim Chrisinger is a retired career public servant who worked in Democratic and Republican administrations, including the State of Iowa from 1996 to 2007.
Top image: Jim Larkin's illustration of a flag adorned elephant (representing the Republican Party) split in two, available via Shutterstock.