A year or so ago we talked a lot about coalition government, of how political parties are formed of compromise between factions which do not agree completely but could forge a platform, a set of objectives and principles, which they could agree to support. This platform would have most of what each faction most wanted and little of what any faction most opposed, and so was embraced by otherwise disparate groups.
It is of course part and parcel of this arrangement that there is another party forming another coalition around a different set of objectives and principles. After all, if everyone in America, or even almost everyone, agreed on every point, there would be only one party and elections would go as smoothly as the elections of George Washington, who twice took the unanimous vote of the electors. We expect that our representatives will take the principles we support, and meet with those with whom we disagree, and work out compromise policies to rule the land.
At the moment, though, that is not happening. Someone did a study which shows that today fewer legislators are working with the opposition, voting the same way on the same bills to get things to work, than was true a few decades back. It is almost as if any legislation proposed by any member of one party must be opposed by every member of the other, simply for being the work of the enemy. The legislature is polarized, severely divided, and intransigent in their positions.
Some who saw the study suggested we need to oust all the current legislators and replace them with new ones who can work together. However, it is not the fault of the legislators. It would be nice to be able to blame them, but the fact is that Americans themselves–we, the people, the voters–have become so polarized. I noticed a comment the other day in which someone who did not know me said that his local Episcopalian congregation had chosen the “wrong side” of the homosexual marriage issue; I was sorely tempted to quip that yes, it is very disappointing when a church abandons solid biblical theology in favor of popular contemporary culture, but I did not want to throw gasoline on a fire. Another article blamed the failure of a state legislature to pass new gun control laws on the heavy spending of the National Rifle Association, and only casually mentioned that the gun lobby had been outspent about three-to-one in the contest, because after all if Americans can’t agree with the present speaker, it must be because some evil group has influenced them to embrace the wrong answer.
This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened. In times I can remember Americans were polarized over Viet Nam and civil rights. Before that, slavery nearly split the nation. Since then, abortion has never found a place with which everyone is comfortable. These fights continue, because each side perceives the other as uncompromising and responds by being equally uncompromising.
I have been an independent and a moderate for my entire life, but now after half a century I find that I no longer am certain just exactly where the moderate positions are. If it is a choice between killing unborn babies and forcing women into slavery to bear them, between oppressing homosexuals by criminalizing their expressions of affection and oppressing religious groups by criminalizing their opinion that such relationships are unnatural (and whenever you attempt to criminalize an opinion, you open the door to very serious government power), between robbing the middle class to feed the poor and letting the poor starve, it begins to appear that there are no good choices, no good answers, no reasonable middle ground.
And indeed, our politics have become dominated by extremists, leftists who are proud to wear the label “progressivists” and rightists who cannot even compromise with each other to form a united front. Those of us in the middle are clinging to driftwood. Our ship has been ripped apart to fortify the sides of the battle.