In the wake of the riots in D.C. and the Trump presidency as a whole, many Americans are taking a step back to reflect on the political climate of the nation. Although political polarization is far from old, the Trump presidency brought a worrying surge of partisanship. Although division is natural, and necessary to ensure progress, it begs the question; Is our current division productive? Or are we destroying our chances of coming together to produce positive change?
Understanding the role of government is vital to answer these questions. To do this, we must first look back to the days of our founding fathers. The men who wrote the American constitution took inspiration from, and at times plagiarized, Enlightenment-era philosophers, such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, who laid the groundwork for the American democracy. The canvas upon which the American constitution was written comes from the concepts of checks and balances, divisions of power, and the ultimate right and necessity of the people to define their government’s role. The government, however, was never designed to serve as a platform for only two sides to argue.
In America, the two-party system that we see today evolved largely out of necessity. To accomplish anything at the level of the federal government, states needed to come together to form voting blocs around their interests. The formalization of these voting blocs in pre-constitutional America eventually led to the development of the political parties we see today, with the current Democratic party forming around the remains of the Democratic-Republican party in 1828, and the Republican party forming later in 1854 to oppose slavery. Looking at the origins of these parties, we see that they formed to represent and advance the interests of their voters, though their modern counterparts seem to have lost this “magic touch.” The current dogma of each political party centers around pandering to a vocal minority of radicalized supporters, many of whom are unconcerned with providing realistic solutions to common issues.
Today, however, politicians flout their duty to represent and advance the people with impunity. With wars driven by industry and many other ridiculous abuses of power becoming increasingly commonplace and acceptable, it seems we the people have lost our grip on the reins of the legislature. This is primarily because politicians, specifically at the federal level, are less beholden to the people than ever before. With the rise of scandals and polarizing anecdotes in today’s political climate, politicians are able to effectively distract people from congressional stagnation. With the people either distracted, divided, or both, essential progress is shoved to the side in favor of pointless partisan infighting.
In particular, the increasing occurrences of personal attacks in the legislative process are concerning. These kinds of character assaults eliminate the possibility of productive discourse and hinder the overall objective of passing legislation to help people. Without the mutual respect shared between many politicians of olden days, it becomes that much harder to provide solutions to issues that would still be contentious without these complicating factors.
To ensure that they efficiently represent their constituents, legislators must be able to exercise prudence in the issues they bring to the floor. As a large body representing a wide variety of people, progress is already difficult, however it becomes all but impossible when plagued by purely partisan debate. The issue is, the people are not pressuring to see these changes. The legislature is designed to represent the people, so we must make it our priority to focus ourselves on encouraging productive debate intended to achieve worthwhile progress. If the people do not speak, they will not be heard; we need to devote ourselves to the only principle that will make this possible, unity.