You did this.

5440393641_6dabcc3f81_o

You did this.

If you’ve spent these last eight years relentlessly demonizing the current occupant of the White House—questioning his religion (as if it should matter), doubting his citizenship, making thinly veiled racist jokes—you did this.

And no, this isn’t about being a partisan shill. I disagree with President Obama on a great many things.

If you only listen to voices that reinforce your existing bias—all while complaining about everyone else’s blind spots—you did this.

If you cheer for obstructionists who care little about finding common ground—whose sole objective is to torpedo the other side—you did this.

If you’ve demonized “outsiders”—immigrants, Muslims, gays—if you’ve perpetuated false stereotypes, refused to acknowledge their humanity, treated them as little more than a punch line to a crass joke—then you did this.

You may be shaking your head, wondering how we got to this point, where a misogynistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist demagogue is now the presumptive nominee of a major political party.

But you shouldn’t.

When gatekeepers grow their empires by preying on people’s fears, convincing white evangelicals—who happen to be one of the most disproportionately privileged groups to ever walk the earth—that we are under siege, then Donald Trump is what we get.

If you nurse a persecution mindset long enough, Donald Trump is what you find waiting for you at the end of the road.

When you perpetuate the rhetorical violence of the culture war—when you live and die by an “us vs. them” mentality—then Donald Trump is your future.

When you teach people to be perpetually outraged, Donald Trump is the only logical outcome.

When you encourage your followers to marginalize, stigmatize, and demean people because of where they come from or who they love—Donald Trump is your standard-bearer.

Already I hear some evangelicals asking, “How did this happen?”

Was there any other possible outcome?

As if choosing fear over love—and teaching our followers to do likewise—could ever lead to a different result?

Trump is not some strange aberration who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He is a reflection of us.

You did this.

We did this.

God help us.

Photo: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

The case for a four-party system

This week, two events got me thinking about America’s two-party system. One was Eric Cantor, one of the most prominent—and most conservative—members of the House, losing his primary to candidate and a movement who felt he wasn’t conservative enough. The other was a report from the Pew Research Center, showing just how polarized we’ve become in the last 20 years.

I know, this isn’t the usual sort of thing I write about here. I’m intrigued and repulsed by politics at the same time. It’s like a car crash…you can’t look away. The older I get, the more ambivalent I become about participating in our political machine. So if politics isn’t your thing, you may just want to skip this post. I’m mostly writing to get it out of my system anyway.

People have been talking about third party for, well… probably as long as there have been two parties in this country. But creating a viable third party is notoriously difficult. Just ask Ross Perot. Our political system is designed to favor two parties, roughly evenly matched.

I’ve started to think that what we need is not a third party but a third and fourth party. Counterintuitively, having four major parties might help ratchet down the increasing polarization of late.

The third party in this scenario is fairly obvious. The Tea Party should break off from Republicans and form their own party. Evidently, this has occurred to lots of other people. Type the words “should the Tea Party” into Google and see what comes up. Tea Partiers are notoriously ambivalent about their own party, with 43% having a negative view of the GOP.

So why not split? Why persist with an internal slugfest that most analysts predict will hurt both Tea Partiers and mainstream Republicans in the long run? Why wage a battle for the so-called purity of the Republican party, calling the other side RINOs (Republican In Name Only) without ever seeing the irony? Why not give conservative-leaning voters a choice between a center-right party and a far-right party?

Of course the reason, known to Tea Partiers and conventional Republicans alike, is that splitting the party would send both groups into the political wilderness. Neither faction by itself can cobble together a large enough base to govern. Today, 47% of the US electorate leans Democratic; 40% leans Republican. If you split that 40% two ways, well…you do the math.

But what if something similar happened on the leftward end of the political spectrum? Democrats also tend to fall into one of two camps—moderate or “blue dog” Democrats on the one hand and progressives on the other. The divide is nowhere near as fractious as the one between Tea Partiers and Republicans—yet. But it’s real nonetheless.

So what if progressives bolted? It’s no secret most are almost as disillusioned with Barack Obama as conservatives are. (OK, for very different reasons.) And the thought of Hillary Clinton as his heir apparent has caused some to not-so-secretly wish that Elizabeth Warren would mount a challenge…sort of doing to Clinton in 2016 what Obama did to Clinton in 2008.

Why not let voters choose from four parties instead of two? The right and left wings of the electorate are pulling away from each other, as the Pew Research Center showed this week. Meanwhile, the two major parties are failing to get much of anything done as they struggle to contain their increasingly discontented bases.

I think a four-party system would be good for two reasons:

1. Four parties would cover the political spectrum better than two.

Most of American politics over the last several decades has consisted of people somewhere in the middle duking it out. This might have worked well enough when the number of people identified as “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” was fairly small, as was the case in 1994. But more people have gravitated to the left and the right since then, and they’re realizing they don’t have a home in our current two-party system.

Another way to get at this is to think of political ideologies in terms of four quadrants: the authoritarian right, authoritarian left, libertarian right, and libertarian left. Only the first two quadrants are represented by our two-party system. (Some would argue that both parties operate entirely within one quadrant, that Democrats and Republicans are varying shades of authoritarian right.)

Libertarians on the left and right tend to be overlooked…until they make some noise, that is—as right-wing libertarians have done in the form of the Tea Party. (Heck, many Americans don’t even realize there is such a thing as left-wing libertarianism.)

2. No party would be able to claim a majority on its own, forcing parties to work together in order to govern.

Granted, moving toward a European parliamentary model might not be most Americans’ cup of tea. But creating a system where no single party commands a majority by itself does have one key advantage: it forces people of differing ideologies to work together if they want to accomplish something.

In some cases, depending on the political cycle, that could mean a legislative coalition between Republicans and Tea Partiers. Or between Democrats and progressives. It could mean a coalition in the middle, between Republicans and Democrats.

On certain issues of importance to libertarians both left and right, Tea Partiers and progressives might even come together—for example, to roll back government infringement of privacy (Cough! NSA. Cough!).

Having four parties would not lesson our ideological differences. But it might force us to be more honest about them. It would give like-minded people a chance to organize around a platform they believe in, instead of waging a civil war for control of a political party that never really belonged to them in the first place. And because no single party could govern unilaterally, it would force people from different camps to stop demonizing each other long enough to (hopefully) achieve something meaningful.

It’s probably pie in the sky, I know. But can it be any worse than what we have now?

It’s not just your imagination. We are becoming more polarized.

Today, the Pew Research Center shared the findings of their new study on political polarization in America. Their survey of 10,000 adults confirmed that it’s not just your imagination. Polarization is getting worse.

Think about that. We’re more polarized today than we were two decades ago. When Bill Clinton was in office. When the Democrats tried to overhaul the US healthcare system and triggered one of the biggest political upheavals in our lifetime. When Republicans used their House majority to impeach a sitting US president.

Yeah. We’re more polarized than that.

For all the partisan wrangling of the 1990s, there was actually a good deal of ideological overlap between the two parties, which is another way of saying most Americans were somewhere in the middle. When I studied political science almost 20 years ago, my professor used to say the differences between the two parties were more about style than substance.

Those were the days.

Today, we’re drifting farther apart. The number of people at the far ends of the spectrum—those who are consistently (read: exclusively) conservative or liberal—has more than doubled. From 10% in 1994 to 21% today.

We don’t just dislike each other…

With increased ideological uniformity comes open hostility. The number of Democrats and Republicans who hold “very unfavorable” views of the other has skyrocketed. And it’s not just that we don’t like each other. Increasingly, we view those who disagree with us as a threat to society. More than a quarter of Democrats and over a third of Republicans see the other side in this light.

We’re hunkering down in our respective ideological silos. No longer are those with differing views just people who disagree. They’re adversaries. Enemies who must be stopped at all costs. For the good of the nation.

You see where this is going?

It’s not hard to guess how we got here. Fox News and MSNBC both launched in 1996. Increasingly, conservatives and liberals retreat to their own private echo chambers. Fewer of us have any close friendships with those who disagree with us. We don’t even want to live in the same communities as each other. Civil discourse is giving way to a new political ghetto:

Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Polarization is an inherently dehumanizing force. It lead us to view others as obstacles and threats, not as people whose inherent dignity and worth are every bit as real as ours. And it’s not just the political landscape that’s being affected.

Tomorrow, why the time may finally have come for a four-party system…and why that might actually diminish our polarization.

Next week, polarization and the church.