The rise of polarization here in the United States of America is a major cause of concern for the democratic norms which exist here in the US. Over the years, the United States has undergone a tremendous shift towards unequivocal partisanism. Significant political polarization leads to “gridlock and careening” according to Jennifer McCoy, Tahmina Rahman, and Murat Somer’s article. This truth which those three political researchers preach in their article is abundantly visible in the United States anytime the news is turned on, anytime you see a tweet from an elected official, regardless of their party, and even anytime you try to talk to a friend. Partisanship is widespread, and polarization came as the result. Polarization not only leads to democratic erosion and backsliding, but it also leads to political violence. Instances of political violence in the United States include the Capitol Riots that took place on January 6, 2020, following Donald Trump’s loss in the Presidential Election, plots to kidnap elected officials, antifa, and more.
In today’s society, the news and media plays a large role in people’s political alignment. There is less reliance on local news, and more dependence on national sources. Channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox news dominate the industry, leaving no possibility for entry into the world of independent news. It is no longer a nation following Walter Cronkite. It is now a nation pitted against itself. It is Tucker Carlson versus Anderson Cooper. The news sources in the United States unfortunately act more as echochambers than anything else. All things which they report on have a political twist blaming the other side of the aisle for misfortunes, and praising their party for successes.
Ehchochambers are a dual edged blade. For example, the viewers of Fox News are given information that has been twisted in order to fit their ideology, which deepens their belief and amplifies their voice. The outcry of support for a candidate such as Donald Trump as a result enables and encourages the behaviors we often see on display from the former President.
The Capitol Riots which took place on January 6, 2020 is the epitome of political polarization, and democratic backsliding. This is a most major example of putting a candidate over your country, an unfortunate phenomenon which will perpetuate in coming years, and likely worsen. Radical supporters of particular candidates are willing to commit crimes, including treason, in their attempt to display their discontent with democracy. On January 6, Donald Trump uttered the words, “ Fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Following that call to action 2,000 Trump supporters violently marched on the Capitol. This act is completely unprecedented in American history. Although there have been marches on the Capitol, never has there been one in an attempt to overturn an election. The participants were happy to claim responsibility, viewing themselves as martyrs for Donald Trump.
Polarization does not solely affect the voters. Politicians and the politically elite are influenced massively, and thus institutional breakdowns of democratic norms occur. In Washington, congress is passing fewer bills and reforms. On a yearly basis the number seems to continue to drop. In the 117th Congress (present day) has enacted 213 bills, compared to past congresses, this is a pathetic number. The inability toarrive at bipartisan consensus is continually growing into a larger problem each year.
Beyond the legislative, the executive branch is also affects the cataclysmic polarization facing the United States today. The President, is one of the largest drivers of polarization. Due to the President holding the largest power of any single individual in the United States, they are able to unilaterally pass legislation without congressional approval via executive orders. The executive orders are often extreme. Take Executive Order 13769, better known as the “Muslim Travel Ban” executed by Donald Trump. This would have never passed in bipartisan congress. Opposite to congress passing fewer laws, the number of Presidential Executive Orders has been steadily rising, further displaying both the gridlock in congress and executive aggrandizement resulting from polarization.
There are several ways to side step the system of checks and balances. With polarization worsening a worrisome idea is that of executive aggrandizement. Executive aggrandizement is when the executive branch, the President, eliminates checks on their power. Examples of this are the increased number of executive orders and the threat of court-packing.
Polarization is the driving factor behind democratic erosion and backsliding in the US. There are movements attempting to stop polarization. Unite America is a movement attempting to put the interest of the United States in the minds of voters instead of their party’s interests. However, drivers of polarization will continue to push the separation of parties.