We are a nation of based on self-evident truths. The American political system has become self-evidently dysfunctional. Pressing public policy concerns go unaddressed year after year while savage political partisanship tears at our social fabric.
Political and philosophical difference are normal in a healthy and free society. No citizen should be expected to violate his or her own conscience or compromise sacred principles. But the common values we share, and our shared desire to solve common problems, should enable us to make reasonable and principled compromises for our mutual wellbeing. In some instances, the Left and the Right do not disagree at all, yet the system somehow keeps us from working together.
It’s not just our government that has become dysfunctional. Our sense of community is also suffering. Rather than political strife infecting nearly every aspect of our lives, we want happy and healthy communities, where people of different perspectives live in harmony.
To understand what is going wrong, we must first recognize the forces that have citizens of goodwill at each other’s throats.
First, powerful partisan interests in politics and media expend vast resources in service to themselves; they inflame partisan passions and vilify “the other side” in order to increase ratings, fundraise, and mobilize partisan constituencies. Partisan interests are not served by discovering common ground; rather they advance by marginalizing and demonizing their opponents. The ferocious and debilitating partisanship we are currently experiencing is therefore partly manufactured.
Second, we also know, from the work of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (See his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion), that partisanship is encouraged through the process of human evolution. Nature rewarded evolving humans to think tribally. In America today we are increasingly like two warring tribes, one on the Left and one on the Right. Partisanship is also therefore partly natural.