Partisanship and Elections

“If you do this, I’ll do that.” Why and how extreme partisanship is destroying the political conversation and impeding progress in the United States.  

Have you ever heard of destructive cycles? A destructive cycle is a “repetitive behavior or mode of responding that is sometimes acted out unconsciously and has a damaging impact on ourselves or others.” [Italics mine.] In our case, the destructive cycle we speak of is extreme partisanship, and it’s ruining the political conversation and progress in the United States.

We often think of partisanship as a spectrum, something like this:

Spectrum of partisanship

But, a spectrum must play out on some stage, yes? The stage is the election cycle, or cycles to be more specific, and the combination of having a spectrum and a place for it to get “movement” turns it into this cycle that plays out very much like this:

The election response cycle

So we get into a constant state of tit-for-tat and it’s reactive. It’s not thoughtful, not really, and add in the “tug” of partisanship (we’ll get to that later), you have a lot of people yelling at each other, fomenting populist rage, and limiting the ability to be considered and collaborative which is exactly what’s needed for conversation and progress.

But, let’s go back to that spectrum and add something else to it:

Enhanced partisanship spectrum

This spectrum now highlights a few things:

  1. Amount of influence (size of the circles)
  2. Overlap between groups (areas of conversation)
  3. Where each elected official/candidate stands (individual squares)

What is not depicted is this: each individual official has a “sphere” of influence as well, and it’s driven by the size of their power base (their citizen supporters) and their alignment with one another. That creates “tugs” against the centrist areas, or the areas of overlap, the areas of conversation.

Simply put, the growing strength at the ends of the spectrum create movement in the centrist parties and as it shifts people further away from the middle, it reduces areas of overlap in the ‘competing’ ideologies – it stops the conversation.

If you are not having a conversation, you are not collaborating.

If you are not collaborating, you are not making laws.

If you are not making laws, you are not governing.

And if you are not governing, then we don’t have a government. Not an active one at least. And the lack of that turns this country into a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nobody wins; everybody loses.


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