#1Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. Two decades ago, the average partisan differences on these items were only slightly wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as differences across racial lines. Today, the partisan gaps far exceed differences across other key demographics.
I attribute this ominous development to both parties crossing previously observed lines of appropriate political tactics and rhetoric, picking at the seams that hold our society and democracy together. The GOP-advanced Whitewater investigation of the Clintons’ financial shenanigans began the criminalization of politics. President Clinton’s arrogance and recklessness as a sexual predator placed Democrats in the position of defending unethical conduct especially repugnant to conservatives, and the furious (and dishonest) efforts of both Clinton and Democrats to deny the legitimacy of his impeachment drove the parties further apart.
The essentially tied election of 2000 came at the worst possible time, but Democrats made its wounds to public comity worse that they had to be by using the false claim that the election was “stolen” to energize its base for years. The rise of hyper-partisan leaders in the House and Senate—Gingrich, Pelosi, McConnell, and worst of all, Harry Reid—continued to poison discourse. The Iraq War fiasco, a Republican mistake, and the false Democratic mantra “Bush lied…” in response to it exacerbated the divide. Then the bi-partisan botches that led to the 2008 crash were widely attributed only to Republicans. Spurred by the prospect of a black President, the news media, always heavily tilted leftward, abandoned large portions of its ethical values to be an unapologetic cheerleader for the Democratic candidate, because having a black President elected would be so darn wonderful for everybody. Thus did the media fully embrace “the ends justifies the means” as an operating principle/
The inevitable racist response of a minority—but a vocal one—in conservative and Republican circles to the prospect of a black President caused further division, and Obama’s alliance with an openly racist Reverend Wright caused more racial polarization. Once elected, President Obama could have healed much of the damage since 1994 (as he promised to do) , but instead he chose to leverage divisions among races, genders, ages, classes, gays and straights, and legal and illegal immigrants for political advantage. His supporters, meanwhile, including those in the news media, began using accusations of racism to smother and inhibit legitimate criticism. Obama broke with Presidential tradition by repeatedly blaming his predecessor for problems he proved unable to solve, keeping partisan resentment hot.
Even with all of this, Obama could have healed much of the accumulated partisan antipathy if he had been an effective leader. He wasn’t. In contrast to his predecessor he was an effective (though over-praised) communicator,and in marked contrast to the current POTUS, he played the part beautifully, and that’s not inconsequential. The rest, however, was an ugly combination of misplaced priorities, incompetence, laziness, racial bias and posturing, with awful results. This hastened the divide, because Obama’s core base, the African American community, was inclined to view him uncritically no matter what he did. As other groups called out the President on his failings, that group’s loyalty and bias drove it, and allied groups, into defensive, knee-jerk ideological opposition, as the growing power of social media exacerbated hostility between the ideological polls.
Obama’s divisive administration, rhetoric and poor governing habits begat Donald Trump.
And here we are. Continue reading