A study of the rise of political partisanship in the United States, coupled with an impassioned call for a rebirth of the democratic virtue of compromise.
The polarization of American politics is widely accepted as a baleful development, although no solid consensus has emerged regarding its genesis. In this third installment of his series, Paepke (The Seinfeld Election II, 2017, etc.) contends that a complex combination of forces—institutional, political, and social—has resulted in a lack of moderate, centrist elected officials, as well as voters that once demanded them. First, he points out that the electorate itself has become thoroughly factionalized. Hence, national elections have been replaced by contests between relentlessly partisan states, a predicament that’s only exacerbated by the Electoral College. Consequently, congressional incumbency rates have risen sharply, he says, and safe seats are predictably decided in primaries, which cater to a minority of extremists. Presidential elections, Paepke notes, are decided by these same partisan states, so candidates are incentivized to avoid substantive national issues. This produces one-sided legislation with an expiration date, because as soon as the next party takes power, it eviscerates its predecessor’s legislative gains. Paepke not only astutely diagnoses systemic problems, but also makes a stirring case for compromise as the core of democracy, while “Autocrats decree as they please, consulting only their own values, pleasures, and conscience.” The author’s analysis is, in itself, an admirable expression of the intellectual temperance he recommends; for example, he discusses the corrosive ways in which Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both worsened the problem, despite their respective promises to unify a fractured nation. Paepke doesn’t present much in the way of concrete solutions, and he predicts that President Donald Trump will only offer more of the same. Nonetheless, in an age of dogmatic attachments, such an open-minded and deep reflection is itself a source of hope.
A provocative investigation into the American political divide.