American democracy faces many challenges: New limits on voting rights. The corrosive effect of misinformation. The rise of domestic terrorism. Foreign interference in elections. Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power. And making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy.
It’s an outlook that makes compromise impossible and encourages elected officials to violate norms in pursuit of an agenda or an electoral victory. It turns debates over changing voting laws into existential showdowns. And it undermines the willingness of the loser to accept defeat — an essential requirement of a democracy.
This threat to democracy has a name: sectarianism. It’s not a term usually used in discussions about American politics. It’s better known in the context of religious sectarianism — like the hostility between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. Yet a growing number of eminent political scientists contend that political sectarianism is on the rise in America.
That contention helps make sense of a lot of what’s been going on in American politics in recent years, including Donald J. Trump’s successful presidential bid, President Biden’s tortured effort to reconcile his inaugural call for “unity” with his partisan legislative agenda, and the plan by far-right House members to create a congressional group that would push some views associated with white supremacy. Most of all, it re-centers the threat to American democracy on the dangers of a hostile and divided citizenry. [Continue reading…]