What is gridlock and polarization?
Political theorist, Jennifer McCoy, defines polarization as, “a process whereby the normal multiplicity of differences in a society increasingly align along a single dimension and people increasingly perceive and describe politics and society in terms of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’” (McCoy, 2018). Due to the two-party system America functions under, there is no central American political identity. Instead of Americans seeing themselves as competition with other countries, they see themselves as an “Us” versus “Them” between the two political parties. Each party views each other as a threat to one another’s ideals leading to gridlock when either party tries to pass new policies.
Gridlock occurs when the two main parties have such differing ideals to the point that they are unwilling to compromise leading to policies being stuck or dying in the branches of our government such as Congress where majority vote is needed (Binder, 2000). Representatives are willing to delay the benefits a policy could bring to its citizens simply because of the competitive animosity between the two parties. The two-party system had previously been successful for so long due to the willingness to compromise and minor shared values for the benefits of the citizens they serve yet in recent years post-Trump era, we see the rapid polarization of the two parties to extremes with the Republican party leaning further and further into head strong far-right conservative politics. When a democracy has reached the levels of pernicious polarization and gridlock occurs continuedly, political institutions within the United States will start to collapse on this dangerous path (McCoy, 2022).
Current Impacts of Polarization
As of 2022, the Pew Research Center revealed that 62% of Republicans and 54% of
Democrats have a very unfavorable view of the opposing party (Pew Research Center, 2022). This statistic has almost doubled in the past decade. With the increasing populist ideology coming from the Republican party, tensions rise between both parties leading to a boiling point that results in violent incidents such as January 6th. Those who participated in this violent act of domestic terrorism where rioters began plotting the downfall of the ruling Democratic rulers through potential kidnappings and violent threats were proud to admit to their actions as an act of fighting for their ideals and people (Smith, 2022). Even though these people were incited by their far-right Republican leaders, there is no consequence for those who incited the riot which further perpetuates the idea that this violent act was justified in some way. It allows these leaders to get away with their promotion of values that further polarizes the population as they remove themselves liable for any actions of their followers.
With this established power within our government, both parties struggle to practice bipartisanship that advances the democracy of the country. Rather it seems to be backsliding as Congress has been stuck in gridlock over various issues in the past three years. Ever since 2019, Congress has struggled to pass any legislation on time (Pew Research Center, 2023). This has been a repetitive pattern regarding the appropriation bills needed each fiscal year to dictate the budget resolution. Without passing the bill on time, the government would have to go into shutdown due to the lack of resolutions. In 2019, 300 thousand federal workers were suspended due to the governmental shutdowns (Hussein, 2023). This gridlock and lack of cooperation between parties has led to detrimental effects on its citizens and the political institutions that govern us.
Pernicious polarization has also been reversing the social democratic progress that many American states have made in the past decades with examples such as the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the deterioration of educational institution. On June 24, 2022, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the reversal of Roe v. Wade led to many states with majority Republican rule using it as a precedence to enforce restrictive abortion access. More than 24 states began the process of creating more restrictive abortion laws or trying to ban it outright. Doctors and medical providers are threatened with jail time for simply helping those who may need an abortion or require medical help after at home abortions. In extreme cases, there have been women and medical professionals threatened with charges even in the cases of miscarriages due to the loss of human life.
By creating restrictive policies such as these, the undermining of the medical institutions that provide care for the public causes many to distrust the very system that is supposed to be lifesaving. Many women either turn to dangerous options or try to escape to other states with less restrictive systems to ensure they get the medical care they need. This can exacerbate neighboring state’s medical system simply since the state they live in does not provide the care they need. With these laws, both states that are restrictive and those that do not have restrictions are facing incredulous effects simply due to the unchecked polarization occurring in the United States.
Polarization has also had great effects on the educational institutions that serve the American people as Republican states are seeking to restrict the type of education students receive especially regarding topics of sexuality and race. In Mississippi for example, education cannot include “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior; or that individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.” By the banning of topics that regard the exploration of human life and the general history of racism within the United States, these representatives are deteriorating the educational institutions and effectively reversing the progress and denying the identity of the LGBTQ+ community and the POC of the United States that have faced great oppression within American history. Educational institutions serve to provide their students with an education that can serve the country and its future as they are the future leaders of the world. Yet, there will be a future population where with the lack of education regarding important topics such as sexuality and race leading to further polarization between those who were educated in these topics and those who do not have the knowledge to discuss such topics due to the deterioration of the education they received. They will have similar views to the representatives that enforced these bans as the idea of banning something is that it is something bad. These topics will be seen as taboo in future generations within these states even more than it is now. In a country of supposed freedom, there seems to be a great loss in the past three years of political dispute.