Inheriting Your Partisanship
One of my generation’s favorite past-times is lamenting the numerous problems older generations have straddled us with: a warming planet, a broken pension system, an enormous national debt. Justified or not, our grievances are many. Only sporadically mentioned is a looming problem my generation will inherit, a problem that I fear much more than any other. I fear it because it may impede my generation’s ability to mitigate other pressing matters, inherited or otherwise. Partisanship, while normal in democratic societies, has flourished like an intractable weed in the American political system. This weed threatens political processes critical to our government’s ability to function, yet many choose to keep watering it. This excessive partisanship became visible only a number of years ago, though it is the result of decades of political reforms and numerous technological innovations.
The twentieth century saw to the rise of primary elections and was followed by efforts to increase transparency and accountability in elections and lawmaking. While these political reforms were undertaken with good intentions, they had the effect of subjecting lawmakers to too much vulnerability. Vulnerability itself is a central component to democracy. Elected leaders can be held accountable, and therefore must please their constituents if they wish to be reelected. Because of today’s increased vulnerability, however, lawmakers are too scared to do anything that would risk their reelection. This includes bipartisan cooperation, as methods meant to foster cooperation such as logrolling, adding riders, earmarking, and pork-barrel spending are now excoriated as corrupt or—worse yet—seen as surrendering to the other party’s whims.
Technological developments have exacerbated the effects of these political reforms by allowing anyone with an internet connection to become reporters and political pundits. Because of public apathy towards politics, politicians already feel the need to shout over each other, tout controversial stances on controversial issues, and spew hatred across the aisle just to stay relevant. Social media magnifies this effect, as politicians now publicly engage one another in real time. This reduces what should be meaningful political discourse to a digital slap-fight between celebrity politicians, making attempts at bipartisanship more difficult.
Now obstructionism is used a coping mechanism for this partisanship, and not just by the political right. The Republican Party was certainly complicit in the government shutdown that took place in 2013, but the Democratic Party also recently staged a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate and later a sit-in in the House of Representatives. Regardless of the impetuses of these actions, if shutdowns, sit-ins, and filibusters are increasingly used in our legislative processes, then I fear for the political health of our country. There are many complaints that our president uses executive orders far too often, but given today’s political climate, I can understand why he does.
It is also necessary to look beyond the political elite for causes of this problem and potential solutions to it. A prominent reason why excessive partisanship is so rampant is because the American public is addicted to it. Americans are not raised to view the opposing party favorably, and we consider compromise to be weak and corrupt. Children often blindly subscribe to the ideology of their parents early in life. The various communities that Americans belong to tend to perpetuate their political views, leading to groupthink. Americans are not stronger than the human tendency to believe that what we think is the only valid opinion. We are made just as uncomfortable by others challenging our worldviews as any other nationality, yet our political system is uniquely American. Accordingly, we must rethink how we politically engage one another, our children, and even ourselves. It is likely our instincts have laid a trap for us that we must be conscious not to fall into.
Additionally, older generations must critically look at the political system they have constructed and reflect on what it will mean for my generation and later generations. I have no doubt this toxic partisanship will continue in the near future, and could quite possibly become the legacy of today’s politicians. I would like a government that functions, as would the vast majority of Americans. It is time to look at the causes of today’s partisanship and see if we can mitigate some of them, including past reforms to electoral processes. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, perhaps the same can be said of overly ambitious democratic reforms.
Lastly, younger generations cannot claim complete innocence in this quagmire. Despite being one of the most educated generations to date, Millennials can be just as politically stubborn as our predecessors. We must be aware of the flawed political system that older generations have bequeathed to us. As we inherit the responsibility of leadership, we must do all that we can to correct those flaws. This is true whether we occupy positions of power or are simply concerned voters. We can rise above the excessive partisanship we see today, but it will not be a simple or quick task. If we do not, we will be unable to address the other inherited problems we so love to complain about.
TL;DR Too much partisanship threatens our country's ability to function and it's time to think long and hard about how we can fix it.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of other Arbitror contributors or Abitror as a whole.
Photo: "Child with Flag," originally taken by EDWW day_dae for Flickr with a CC BY-SA 2.0 license. Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator.