American Decline

America’s road to January 6

One of the best analyses of the current US political situation I have seen to date.

By Ed West

Back in the late 1940s American politics had a problem. The issue was serious enough for Congress to authorise a committee looking into divisions between the country’s two parties. The trouble was that there were no divisions – the gap between the Democrats and Republicans had become ‘razor-thin’, and it was feared the lack of difference between them was a ‘destructive force’ in democracy.

To resolve this, in 1950 the American Political Science Association released a report calling ‘on Republicans and Democrats to heighten their contradictions’ and so provide ‘the electorate with a proper range of choices between alternatives of action’.

No one can accuse America’s two parties of having a ‘razor-thin’ gap between them today. Indeed, in the US House of Representatives polarisation is now higher than even in the era following the Civil War.

Partyism increased so much in the decades either side of the millennium that by 2014, 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans believed their rivals were ‘so misguided that they threatened the wellbeing of the nation’. Another poll found that a third of Democrats and Republicans consider the other party ‘a very serious threat to the country’.

The proportion of Republicans and Democrats who say they ‘hate’ the other party rose, from around 15% in the 1980s to just under 50% in 2016. A report two years earlier, from the National Academy of Sciences on ‘motive attribution asymmetry’, the belief that one’s opponent is driven by hate and one’s own group by love, found that Republicans and Democrats had the same level as Palestinians and Israelis. And this was before Trump.

According to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, co-authors of How Democracies Die, members of the two parties have ‘come to view each other not as legitimate rivals but as dangerous enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes a catastrophe.’

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