Saturday, July 30, 2016

Politics after the Conventions: More Polarization or Reconciliation?

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Hillary Clinton has proclaimed herself to be a bridge-builder in contrast to Donald Trump’s nativist promise to build more walls to make America great again.  The dilemma for voters is choosing between believing Clinton’s lofty rhetoric based on her questionable character or risking the radical rhetoric of a rude, crude and unpredictable Donald Trump.

            A polarized two-party system and the resulting dysfunctional Congress brought us to this point in history.  The political polarization is not based on any particular issue but on America’s political culture.  Trump followers seek to restore an idyllic American greatness with a populist demagogue, while Clinton supporters claim America is the greatest nation in the world and want to keep it that way with politics as usual.

            This partisan political polarization is reflected in deteriorating relations in both race and religion.  The traditional racial divide in America has been exacerbated by white policemen who have used excessive force against blacks; and the growing religious polarization between Christians and Muslims is the result of radical Islamist terrorism, and it has as many implications for U.S. foreign policy and military operations as it does for domestic politics.

            Calls for unity at the Democrat Party convention may reconcile the socialist supporters of Bernie Sanders with mainstream Democrats, but it will not bridge the wide chasm between Republicans and Democrats.  Even if the nomination of Donald Trump motivates enough Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton and make her our next President, the partisan divide will remain; it has become part of our 2-party political culture.

            Colbert I. King has described the national disorder as who we are and chastised contemporary politicians, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton for failing to address the polarizing anger and hostility by merely proclaiming “This is not who we are.”  King did not include Donald Trump among the hypocrites since he has not only acknowledged but has unabashedly exploited the national disorder to further his political ambitions.

           Something has to change, or our pluralistic democracy will come apart at its seams.  A third party could be a mediating political force in the polarized 2-party politics of Congress.  Members of the House of Representatives are elected in local districts and should not have to run expensive campaigns, but the Republican and Democratic parties with their big-money backers have made congressional races more a contest for raising campaign funds than for votes, and they can be expected to fight any third-party challenge to their political duopoly.

            That is evident in the Fifth Congressional District of South Carolina, where The State newspaper omitted any reference to a third-party candidate and reported the race between the incumbent Republican and his Democratic opponent would be decided by which of them raised the most money.  Mick Mulvaney (R) has raised twice as much money from big-money donors as his Democrat opponent, but he accused the Democrat Party of trying to buy his House seat:     
“It's clear that the Obama-Biden fundraising machine is very active,” Mulvaney said in a statement. “I am looking forward to proving to national Democrats ... that you cannot cherry-pick a candidate, move him into our state, and buy a House seat in South Carolina.”
In the first quarter of this year, Person outraised Mulvaney, although the incumbent maintains an overall lead, having raised $841,882 this election cycle to Person's $403,443.
The race is drawing national attention from Democrats who hope to pick up seats in the House of Representatives this fall.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has labeled the race an “emerging race,” based on Person’s fundraising figures.
“Fran Person has proven he is one of the few Democrats who can raise the necessary funds to make South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District more competitive,” the Democratic committee said in its “Red to Blue” email, highlighting battleground races where the party hopes to make gains. 
Of the 10 races highlighted by the committee, the 5th District race is the only one in the Southeast outside Virginia.

            In the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic conventions—the first a raucous rejection of politics as usual with the nomination of a narcissistic, nativist and unpredictable populist demagogue, and the second a political lovefest of the practitioners and beneficiaries of politics as usual—there seems little prospect of reconciling deep-seated partisan polarization.  Third party candidates could mitigate against such a polarized partisan duopoly, but as long as they must raise a half-million dollars to be competitive, there is little chance that will happen.

Notes and references:

Michael Gerson has described the voter’s dilemma this way:
“This is an extraordinary political moment. Any reasonable Republican presidential contender other than Trump probably would be beating Clinton handily. Any reasonable Democratic contender other than Clinton probably would be beating Trump handily. The parties, in their wisdom, have chosen the untrusted against the unstable, the uninspiring against the unfit. Take your pick, and take your chances.”  See

In his speech at the Democratic convention President Obama referred to his mixed-race heritage that includes Scots-Irish grandparents, perhaps to mock those who have questioned his racial and religious heritage.  Republican hostility to Democrats might be explained by the influence of a fiercely independent Scots-Irish heritage.  See

On the different political dynamics of the election of the President and members of Congress, see

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