By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
America is divided by partisan political polarization that threatens the very fabric of our democracy. A politics of reconciliation is needed that allows the rejection of conflicting values. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It was reasonable to assume that it provided shared values for most Americans, but the recent election debunked that assumption.
Most of Donald Trump’s supporters claimed to be Christians, but they rejected the moral imperatives of their faith when they voted for a man who exemplified the antithesis of Christian morality. Since most Christians don’t seem to apply the altruistic values of their faith to their politics, more secular partisan alternatives must be considered to prevent the unraveling of the fabric of our democracy.
The electoral college and a two-party duopoly have defined U.S political history. The two parties have usually produced enough diversity to prevent political polarization, but when the Republican Party arose from the wreckage of the Whig Party in 1854, the Democrat and Republican parties led the U.S. to its most divisive polarization in history: The Civil War.
Competition between the two parties is healthy, so long as it is civil and there is the capability to compromise on major issues. But when differences between the two parties are defined by hostile constituencies holding irreconcilable values, as leading up to the Civil War and as they are today, bipolar partisan hostility can be dysfunctional and dangerous.
Without shared religious values, there are only two structural alternatives to counter dangerous partisan polarization. First, reorganize one or both of the two parties; or second, create additional parties. The objective of both is to allow political diversity without hostility through a politics of reconciliation that defuses the risk of bipolar political polarization.
Partisan polarization has become the norm, and identity politics based on special interest groups now take precedence over providing for the common good. A leftist Democrat Party now challenges traditions with an intellectual elite and a coalition of minority groups, while a radical-right, predominately white and blue collar GOP now seeks to preserve traditions and return to the idyllic days of the past.
There has been considerable commentary on changes needed in both the Republican and Democrat Parties. Before the election, when it was widely expected that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump, the focus was on restructuring a Republican Party hijacked by the radical right. Now public attention has turned to reshaping a Democrat Party whose leftist identity politics were rejected by electoral votes, even as they were approved by a majority of voters.
With its electoral victories, it seems unlikely that the GOP will abandon its new radical right posture, and with the popularity of Bernie Sanders, it seems unlikely that Democrats will reject socialism to reclaim the political middle ground. That leaves no place for those political moderates who have previously decided elections, and it opens the door to a third party.
Will there be a third party competitive with Republicans and Democrats in 2018? David Houle has three forecasts: That Donald Trump will be a one-term president; that division in the country in a time of unprecedented change will create massive movements, demonstrations and civil disobedience; and that 2016 will be the last year of a two-party system.
Parliamentary democracies have multiple parties, but they are structured differently than the American two-party system. To enable a third party to succeed at the national level in the U.S. the electoral college would have to be eliminated or modified and structural changes made in Congress. Also, American voters would have to change their view of third party candidates.
The American Party of South Carolina is a third party that ran congressional candidates in the recent election. They ran believing that most voters were disgusted with the two parties and would support third party candidates, but election results indicated that most voters were loyal to the two major parties. Third party candidates received less than 5% of the vote.
Few third party candidates have ever received enough votes to seriously challenge GOP and Democrat candidates at the national level. Most voters apparently believe that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. That must change for third party candidates to gain the credibility needed to compete with Republican and Democrat candidates.
A healthy democracy requires partisan opposition to hold the party in power accountable. A radical right GOP and leftist Democrat Party have abandoned moderate voters and the shared altruistic values that once mitigated against partisan polarization. A third party is needed. Perhaps in 2018 voters will support a third party as the means to a politics of reconciliation.
On the need for shared values for a politics of reconciliation, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation.html. On the irreconcilable differences in values reflected in the recent election, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/irreconcilable-differences-and-demise.html.
On related commentary posted on October 15, 2016 that reflected the expectation that Hillary Clinton would win the Presidency and the partisan alternatives that would follow, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/10/partisan-politics-after-election-back.html.
On Donald Trump as the antithesis of Christian morality that requires political rejection rather than reconciliation, see https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/not-time-reconciliation.
On the electoral college as a means of protecting the sanctity of the two party duopoly against the incursion of third parties, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dump-the-electoral-college-bad-idea-says-al-gores-former-campaign-chairman/2016/12/04/d8c88eb2-b8d6-11e6-b994-f45a208f7a73_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On David Houle’s election thoughts and forecasts, see http://davidhoule.com/evolutionshift-blog/global-business-trends/2016-forecasts/2016/11/22/now-post-election-thoughts-forecasts.
Mark Lilla has described the problem of identity politics in the Democrat Party at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html.
For another perspective of the Democrat dilemma of identity politics, see E. J. Dionne at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democrats-skip-the-civil-war/2016/11/30/79613468-b72a-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On why Democrats should emphasize emotional “gut issues” rather than thoughtful political policies, see Fareed Zakaria at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democrats-need-to-focus-on-the-gut-not-the-head/2016/12/01/dfbe7782-b803-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On the anomaly that America will be ruled by a minority under the GOP, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/america-will-soon-be-ruled-by-a-minority/2016/12/07/fb1491ac-bcb7-11e6-ac85-094a21c44abc_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On changing demographics in American that portend a short-lived white majority and GOP rule, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/12/09/americas-destiny-has-never-been-so-obvious/.
On the birth of the Republican Party in 1854 and its history, see Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_(United_States).
On the American Party of South Carolina as a third party, see http://www.americanpartysc.com/.