Political Partisanship and the Erosion of Civil Discourse

Let’s face it. Our country has grown increasingly polarized over the last few decades. Our elected officials’ dedication to their political affiliation has effectively worked against the people’s better interests. Recent history has proven that very little good comes from partisanship. Our country’s representatives’ dedication to their political affiliation has only brought conflict and hate, provoking each other into petty fights and even violence. The increasing political polarization has aliened many Americans and ensured that a majority of people vote not on their own party’s policies but their dislike for the opposition party. Around 62% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans say that they vote based on the fact that the other party is bad for the country. Alienation, partisanship, and unchecked representatives do not make for a healthy political environment.

We cannot realistically expect 600 people to always agree on matters of state and country. However, politicians are theoretically supposed to put the needs of their constituents above their political allegiance. In 1989, nearly 35% of bills introduced in legislative sessions had bipartisan support, but this number fell to 24% by 2017. It seems our politicians have increasingly lost their ability to act civilly and promote bipartisanship. The rules of the game have changed. The battle of ideologies has intensified since 2016; it has evolved into intense mutual hatred. When the executive and legislative branches are actively at war with each other, all civility attempts are abandoned.

Blame it On Trump Hysteria 

Over the past four years, formerly reasonable elected officials have allowed partisanship to negatively impact how they serve their constituents. Since the 2016 election of President Trump, the voice of reason has left the building.  The responsibility of leadership is to unite the country in times of unrest or despair. Their role is to reach across the aisle and overcome partisan differences. Yet, the past four years have seen one of the most divisive administrations in recent history. America is founded on the principle of unity during troubled times.

Yet, the country is being torn apart by Democrats and Republicans in an intentional attempt to divide the public. The homegrown war between Democrats and Republicans has created a government riddled with strife and personal vendettas. Donald Trump and other Republicans have consistently and often personally attacked rising Democratic star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has been described as the “Wicked Witch,” and Fox News mentioned her over 280 times in two weeks. Similarly, Democratic supporters have questioned Trump’s love for his son, and Trevor Noah mockingly stated that the President wanted to deport his wife. These needlessly personal attacks are a far cry from John McCain defending President Obama from fearmongering voters.

This partisanship and personal attacks have become more regular in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s death sparked riots and protests across the country against police brutality. In a time of civil unrest, the executive branch responded with excessive force, firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protestors all for a photo opportunity. In times of tragedy, the President is supposed to provide comfort and listen to what the people are saying. Instead, the executive branch elected to use excessive force and hide in their military bunker.

The use of excessive and illegal force against peaceful protestors has drawn criticism from members of the President’s party. The President’s former Republican Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell, stated that the President has “drifted away from the Constitution.” Powell cited Trump’s response to protestors in Washington, D.C., as detrimental to the country’s image. The Administration’s former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, has accused Donald Trump of being “[…]the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us”.  When civility is abandoned in favor of excessive shows of strength, our country is weakened. During times of conflict, countless presidents have adopted the phrase “In Union, there is Strength” bringing the country together. In recent years, a new tactic has been utilized, “Divide and Conquer.”

The President’s reaction to Black Lives Matter protests stands in stark contrast to his response to

Protests against state lockdowns due to the pandemic. During anti-lockdown demonstrations in Michigan, Trump called the protests “very good people” and encouraged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to “give a little, and put out the fire.” He stood by these statements when anti-lockdown protestors with guns stood outside state legislative buildings. However, when unarmed peaceful demonstrators gathered across the country to protest police brutality, the President dubbed them “vicious dogs” and “radical leftists” before calling for “law and order.” Indeed, Trump did not seem to want to “give a little” during protests surrounding Black Lives Matter as he threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act, which some commentators believe could create a second civil war.

At the same time, election season has ensured that Joe Biden’s campaign utilizes these issues as ammunition against President Trump. Biden has benefited from the outrage related to George Floyd’s death by calling Trump a racist. Still, Biden himself does not endorse some of the protestors’ main political goals, such as defunding the police, reparations, and significant anti-poverty laws. Biden has slammed Trump for being a wartime president that “surrendered” to coronavirus even though his plans to solve the pandemic do drastically differ from the current Administration. It is not unusual for a candidate to criticize a President, but Biden’s campaign is quite happy to use the political capital of the pandemic and racial unrest.

Pettiness Has No Place in Politics 

 In 2020, the hallowed grounds of the United States Capitol have been reduced to a schoolyard fight. In an effort to “win,” both parties are guilty of going to great lengths to put down their opposition. The problem rests not with the partisan issues, but with the elected officials who are letting their perceived moral superiority affect the greater good. We are faced with a divided government, where the two heads refuse to be civil. President Trump chooses to arm himself with mudslinging and late-night anger tweeting. We live in a world where the free world leader attacks political opponents by tagging them in a Twitter rant. The President’s tactics are far from civil or bipartisan.

Meanwhile, the leader of our Congress is more focused on a tactical ambush of the Administration than on the matters relevant to the people. Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi trumpets her “bipartisan bills” that she claims have been blocked by Republicans. Yet, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and other Republicans have suggested Pelosi excluded them from bipartisan bills relating to drug prices and the status of Dreamers. Similarly, Pelosi’s push for the impeachment of President Trump had the least bipartisan support in modern American history. When she publicly ripped up a copy of Trump’s speech at last year’s State of the Union, she sent a message that unity was not an option for the legislative branch.

When partisan influences take precedence over bipartisan dialogue, the opposition cannot acknowledge the true extent of their leadership. A leader can reflect partisan beliefs. Yet, when civility is absent from the discussion, the public cannot examine the elected official based solely on their political policies.

Final Thoughts

Our country has had problems with partisanship since the nineteenth century. However, the past decade has seen partisanship evolve into a form of extremism. Since 2016, extremist groups from across the political spectrum have come out of the woodwork. The divisive nature of the Administration has emboldened neo-Nazis and white nationalists to march in the streets. White nationalists boldly held a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville three years ago. On the other end of the bell curve, left-wing groups like Antifa have been awakened by the current political climate. In some cases, Antifa has encouraged acts of violence instead of civil discourse.

The media attacks “the radical left” and “white nationalists” on the ground, but we should remember that these partisan sentiments and hatred are echoed on Capitol Hill. Washington’s political class fans the flames of extremism. Our politicians often make our country seem on the verge of war with itself because it ensures their electability and upholds party power. Thus, our elected officials’ dedication to their ideological beliefs is detrimental to their constituents’ health and safety. It is during this time of partisanship and anger that we remind our readers that “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Amanda Parisse

Amanda Parisse is a Social Media Manager for Divided We Fall. Amanda is in charge of planning, implementing, and managing Divided We Fall's Social Media strategy in order to increase brand awareness and promote our vision of building a better bipartisan political sphere. Amanda is a contributor for Divided We Fall on issues surrounding reproductive rights and the polarization of free speech. Outside of Divided We Fall, Amanda is a graduate of Goucher College with a major in Communications and a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts.

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