“Divisive,” “corrupt,” and “messy.” That’s how Americans described the state of our politics when asked to do so by Pew last year. Other popular answers included “polarized” and “dysfunctional.”
Those of us who feel that way may be tempted to tune out this election year. To participate in politics is to encounter many otherwise lovely people at their most upset, angry, and uncharitable. To withdraw from it is, for many, to avoid stress, annoyance, and maybe even negative psychological outcomes associated with daily political engagement.
Opting out sounds sensible in that telling. But if affable, pragmatic, constructive sorts opt out of civic life, repelled by its disagreeableness, the future will be shaped to a growing degree by unreasonable zealots who will make our politics more stressful and dysfunctional. Avoiding that future requires a bigger share of circumspect people to participate.
You can already see the ill effect that negative polarization has had on politics. Since 2016, voter turnout has been relatively high, but not because the public is enthusiastic about what’s going on in the country. Americans think of people in the other party as immoral, dishonest, and close-minded. Donald Trump is especially adept at drawing to the polls both his biggest sycophants and voters who abhor him and want him defeated more than anything. If only as a calming influence, I want more Americans who are alienated by negative polarization to participate, not just in elections, but in political life more broadly. [Continue reading…]