By William Haupt III | The Center Square contributor
“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” – Will Rogers
In 1796, as he neared the end of his second term, President George Washington was facing attacks from opponents for his policies so he decided he would not seek a third term in office. In an effort to unite the nation, he drafted his farewell address. In this document, he told the nation to stay unified, resist the rise of political factions and avoid influence of foreign powers.
Congress did not approve the 22nd Amendment limiting a president to two terms until 1947, but Washington saw the writing on the oval office wall. He was ailing and felt if he died in office the people would think the presidency was a lifetime appointment. Instead, he stepped aside, proving to future generations and his critics that he was committed to democracy and not to power.
Washington told the people not to put regional and sectional interests above the nation. “You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together, the Independence and the Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes. Your Union is a main prop of liberty and the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other. The ‘Worst Enemy’ of Government is loyalty to a Party.”
Some of America’s top political scientists are expressing grave concerns about the future of the American republic. Their research has identified strong parallels between the U.S. today and those in the 1850s that ended in a Civil War. There is distrust in elections, disinformation campaigns, and a rising secessionist movement. Did we learn anything from the Civil War?
Over the years, the American electorate has increasingly exhibited tendencies associated with failing democracies. About 40% of each party now considers the other party to be a threat to our democracy. Nearly 30% have reached a point where they believe they will see increased political violence by political factions across America. And roughly 70% of both parties believe that our democracy only serves the interests of the wealthy, the powerful and special interests.
“I vote but I don’t think that any political party represents my point of view.” – Rupert Sheldrake
Several measures show Americans are growing more divided. They indicate that the U.S. is polarizing faster than other democracies, with members of Congress ideologically farther apart than they’ve been in five decades. One Pew survey suggested many Americans would like to split the country in half and that either red states or blue states should secede from the union.
Five decades ago, we had moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats working in union for the good of the nation. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was authored by House Republicans who worked with segregationist Senate Democrats. But today, the ideological overlap between the two parties has all but disappeared, with the rise of safe districts with partisan supermajorities.
While activists in both parties have long been polar opposites, but the ideological gap between them has widened in recent decades. With the news media moving further left and sensational postings on social media, our nation is no longer debating facts about politicians and the nation. With all media censoring anything they wish, this has empowered the radical political factions.
Each party has split into groups of zealots who put their agenda before the voters. This forces others within the party to appease them, which results in failure to debate key voter issues. The question is how far left or right these divisions will go, and how long will voters put up with this?
“Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” – Henry Kissinger
Americans aren’t divided into two camps; far right and far left. That’s why many have become independents. Democracy works best when there is trust between political factions. When that trust erodes, even if the majority prefers democracy, they’ll look for an alternative government.
Factions within the political parties have further divided the two party system. A Black House Republican, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), is being denied membership into the Black Caucus because of his political beliefs. Yet it was the Party of Lincoln that ended slavery in America?
“I am a black American that happens to be a Republican so they won’t let me in.” – Byron Donalds