The Deepening Divide: American Political Parties

You might be familiar with the term political parties. I think most people would conjure up images of a donkey and an elephant. Many people associate political parties with democrat and republican. In most countries, there is either no political parties or just one; or there are more than two. America is unique in having only two main parties. There may be some others but America is the best known. The point of this post is just to casually discuss the widening divide of the two main parties. I expect that with my own political compass to probably discuss the lack of a third-party.  Yesterday I was having a conversation with somebody who has some opposing views in terms of politics. The conversation really made me start to think about the political parties. In recent years, it seems that the democrats and republicans have gone to further extremes. Obviously if you were born in 2000 or after you probably wouldn’t notice.

You don’t have to be old to see the extremist stretch of the parties. All you have to know is a little historical context. I’m sure I have explained this before in some other post but its worth explaining again. Political parties started in America in 1776 on about the same day the declaration of independence was signed.  Typically historians will say somewhat ironically that after George Washington’s farewell address is when the parties really got going. I will get to George Washington’s farewell address too. But first lets discuss the political parties at that time. During the time before the constitution was signed, there were two sets of loosely based political beliefs. There was no actual organized parties til much later. The Federalists and the anti-Federalist. (Yes, very creative naming) The Federalists were led (loosely) by Alexander Hamilton. They believed that the constitution maintain a strong executive presence within the federal government. The anti-Federalists who led (loosely, not right away) by Thomas Jefferson. They believed that it should be the states who hold the majority of power not the federal government.

I say loosely lead because there wasn’t any organization not until after Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1801 to 1809. Now as for George Washington’s farewell address, this is part where its relevant to political parties: (Irony coming ahead)

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796 Yale Avalon Project

So here is the ironic thing about George Washington and his address, Washington himself was not above joining a party. Throughout his presidency, he tended to call on his secretary of treasury and in the revolutionary war, his first clerk to attend to government business. Alexander Hamilton was one of George Washington’s closest confidants. He also happens to be the de-facto leader of the Federalist party. Washington was actually pretty persuaded by Hamilton’s beliefs. He felt that Hamilton had the country going in the right direction. Washington also did try to stay above the Federalist and Anti-Federalist mudslinging.

If we fast forward to just before the Civil War, we see that political parties have evolved from Federalist and Anti-Federalist to Whigs and Republican-Democrats. The names seem to be different and very much the same even ironic. However, the Whigs represented the Federalist view in many ways. The Republican Democrats represented the Anti-Federalist view. The Whigs dominated the north and the Republican Democrats dominated the south. Abraham Lincoln was the end of the Whig party and the beginning of what many call today’s Republican party. At a contested convention in 1860, Lincoln was able to swing votes to his Republican party from the majority Whigs. From Lincoln time until Teddy Roosevelt, the Republicans and Southern Democrats dominated American politics. Even now, parties tend to be very regional and sectional in popularity. Its one way to define who votes for them. Of course up til 1919, it was only white men who owned land then women’s suffrage was passed.

Teddy Roosevelt was elected by a third-party, one of the few presidents to do so. The 20th century represents a major change in the parties. After Teddy, the political extremes begin to take off. You can contrast the parties in the alternating decades of their rule. The republican decade of roaring twenties saw relaxed government meanwhile the progressive era of 1930s to 1940s  with Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the Democrats dominate because of the Great Depression. The democrats also held power during World War 2 and afterwards with Harry Truman. The 1950s saw the rise of Republicanism in Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was actually pretty moderate by today’s standards. The 1960s saw JFK and LBJ, the latter passing the Great Society, the so-called “second New Deal”. The 1970s saw even more moderates like Nixon and Carter but leaned Democrat. The 1980s is when the extremes pushed higher than ever with Ronald Reagan. Since Reagan, the Republicans have pushed for more tax cuts every year. The 1990s stay relatively moderate with Bill Clinton as a centrist democrat.

My point is that over years it seems like Democrats and Republicans seem to farther apart than ever especially today. I believe this last election really show how deep the divide came. I think when you politicians like Bernie Sanders running, whose view is more socialist than democrat, you have a problem. America always been able to stay the course and not veer to extremes. In part thanks to our constitution and our checks and balances. You know its extreme when Donald Trump is considered an acceptable candidate and is elected. I don’t have a solution to this extreme push to fringes. However, I would propose that we allow more than two dominate parties. I’m a libertarian and I take some opinions from both sides and mold them into one view. I think that being extreme politically is like being ignorant. You can irrationally argue just about anything but you won’t make progress. In order to make progress, you have to accept that there are other ways to achieving the same goals. I think one of the bests to describe the dysfunction of our political parties is that they all have the same goal with a different way to get there.So why can’t we just compromise. The reason is simple. Democrats want big government to control every aspect of our lives except abortions. Republicans want government out of lives except when it comes to abortions. We need to make our goal to make America the best it can be by any means necessary. We need to compromise. Until we can do that then the only thing that will happen is Congressional deadlock and fighting.

Thanks for reading!


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