Tribalism Decided Our Elections, Not Candidates

Tribalism is killing us.

We, as voters, are constantly told two very different narratives: 1) that the political divide in the two-party system is at an all-time high and there’s no going back, and 2) the people who don’t subscribe to the two-party system and fall “in the middle” is ever growing.

Reasonable people can agree that it is impossible for both of those to be true. We cannot have a growing middle while simultaneously having a country that is increasingly polarized by the day. The idealist in me wishes it was “the middle” that was the popular place to be – the place where individuals select candidates based on their values and their qualifications, not because of the letter after their name.

But that simply isn’t where we are. The November election post-mortem yielded maps that appeared more gerrymandered than ever and it armed political commentators with ammunition to continue the narrative that the two parties can’t agree on anything or anyone. Just last week, one pundit said we were “too polarized to deal with impeachment” and we aren’t too far removed from the Kavanaugh hearings which yielded a belief or a distrust of sexual assault allegations based on political party alone, something I never could have fathomed would be possible.

Our elections in Georgia demonstrated this as well. As Election Day drew near, Democrats saddled everything Brian Kemp did wrong on Republicans as a whole and took it a step further to assign anything Republicans in the legislature did wrong to the Kemp campaign. Autonomous boards, the Georgia legislature, federal judges – all of that was because of Kemp the Puppetmaster. Libertarians also garnered some partisan hack flack with the typical “The only issue those people care about is ‘weed’” rhetoric.

The Republicans were seemingly the most skilled at this particular game in the 2018 cycle as they reiterated that everything Stacey Abrams did bled over into the down the ballot race candidates as well. The Georgia Republican Party sent out mailers with Stacey Abrams’s face on them in races where she was not a candidate. Obviously, it was effective, even though it was misleading. I had people tell me they voted for Democratic Secretary of State candidate John Barrow in the General Election but because of what Abrams did in the days following the election, they were going to vote Republican in the run-off. There was some similar conversation on the Democrat side for Public Service Commissioner races. I can’t say that I understand that line of thinking.

I left my political party four years ago for a number of reasons, but the most compelling was that I simply did not understand how people could cry foul during primaries, obliterate someone’s character, call them everything but a child of God, and then place a sign in their yard for that same person come General Election time merely because it was “the right thing to do for the Party.”

If someone sucks, for lack of a better word, during the Primary, why do they stop sucking in the General? To be succinct, they don’t. And voters have committed to the line of thinking that no matter how much the person they didn’t vote for in the primary may suck, they don’t suck worse than the person in the other political party. I have also never understood blind allegiance. If someone has a terrible voting record and travels only on a path of political expediency, I think they should be called on it. Publicly. And political parties don’t really like that, which is why I could take this column a number of directions and would probably end up pontificating about how political parties are simply too powerful – because they are – or I could preach about how political parties foster an environment that breeds ignorance – because they do – but I’ll save that for another day.

Today, we have to focus on how we can collectively do better as we go toward 2020. Here are just a few of the things I think we should work on:

Evaluating Candidates  

Not all candidates are created equal. Though it was the rhetoric we heard for what seemed like eternity, all Democrats don’t share the same beliefs just as all Republicans don’t share the same beliefs. There were disparities between Abrams, Amico, Barrow, and Swann – despite their pledge to the same political party. Not only did they disagree on policy issues, they varied on approach to government and when it is the answer.

Similarly, top of the ticket Republicans like Kemp, Duncan, and Raffensperger each have different approaches to campaigning, they have different alliances, they made different promises, and they came forward with different experiences – but we set them on three scales and assumed they carried the same weight.

Fostering an Environment That Keeps Candidates & Elected Officials from Being Individuals

What do I mean by this? I mean that we want elected officials to adhere a the standards of the respective political party but the standards of which we speak mean something different to everyone who adheres to them. Instead, elected officials are juggling principles they committed to a political party which conflict with what they actually believe. Gone are the days when someone actually announces they don’t agree with all of the standards of the political party they’ve pledge to. Instead, we have a checklist, we demand that candidates and elected officials agree to all of them for a sole condition of being able to run for office, and then when they vote in conflict with the pledge, we are confused (and understandably outraged).

All of this could be avoided if we simply allowed candidates and elected officials to be individuals and stopped trying to mold them into a cookie cutter created by an ever-fluctuating standard put in place by leadership of a political party leadership.

And if we do this, it makes it easier to….

Hold Them Accountable in the Right Way

We complain that government doesn’t get anything done, that they don’t pass anything, or they don’t repeal anything, but part of the reason behind that is the demand by voters for each respective party to stay as far away as possible from the other. So why would Democrats show their moderate side to partner on something like justice reform when their constituents are raising cain about holding firm on staying as far away as possible from anything conservative? It has become taboo to work with anyone with a different letter after their name.

On the contrary, voters have gotten in the habit of making excuses for their own Party when they falter or stumble, even when they know it’s wrong. Holding our elected officials accountable goes well beyond publicly announcing that we’ll be watching the way they vote and examining their campaign donation list. The freedom to hold them accountable isn’t a privilege, it’s a duty.  

The way we have been doing things has to stop. We have to stop looking at everything on a surface level and merely by who is behind an initiative. We have to get back to a place where we ask ‘Why?’ As we watch policy move at the state and federal level over the next two years, we need need to be more interactive, inquisitive, and informed when we see an alliance. We must hone in on and respect consistency – even if it isn’t the kind of consistency we prefer.

And most importantly, we have to stop pretending that people who hold other political values have the plague simply because they don’t mirror ours.

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Benevolus
Benevolus

I think if there were more than two major parties it would go some way towards improving this situation. It seems that this is a particularly ripe time for that to happen too, because both main parties have distinct fractures. If someone with enough clout could just get both parties to do this at the same time, it wouldn’t be seen as giving as big of an advantage as if one party only split. The Tea party/libertarian wing could split from the mainstream R’s, and the more socialist/progressive libs could split from the mainstream D’s. The more closely aligned parties… Read more »

Mr. Bear
Mr. Bear

I think that we’re all wired so that it always becomes “us” vs. “them” (good/bad, left/right, alien/domestic) as a convenient way of sorting things out. There might be 50 Shades of Gray, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, but in the end simplicity wins out. And, in the offhand chance that we all become Democrats, there’s certain to be an internal division that will develop.

Gregs
Gregs

Parties aren’t the problem, voters are. We always get the government we deserve! A real democracy requires an informed and engaged electorate. What we have now is a democracy based on winners and losers. Heads I win, tails you lose. We need voters who can vote for the best candidate, not the evil of two lessors. How do we change this? 1) End gerrymandering by having all political jurisdictions decided by an objective set of criteria. Use a comission appointed by some non political entity. 2) Tie all changes to voting rights to an equivelent change in gun rights. For… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus

I think it’s possible that more parties/choices would eventually result in a (at least marginally) more informed electorate. An analogy might be like at the grocery store: If there are only two choices of peanut butter you might just choose on the look of the label. But if there were 6 choices, you are more inclined to see what the differences are. Agree on the gerrymandering. This has to stop. Plurality wins: As long as there are only two or three candidates, this isn’t so bad (although sometimes a candidate might win with only 34% of votes cast, which is… Read more »

GeneHartke
GeneHartke

On what aspect of justice reform would progressives work with right wingers on? Putting more non-violent people in private prison? I’m confused.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Changes in sentencing,

Benevolus
Benevolus
Benevolus
Benevolus

apparently it’s not ‘progressives’ who are a stumbling block:
https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/06/criminal-justice-reform-bill-mcconnell-1047579

“If the Senate brought up the bill for a vote now, it would surely pass, but not before revealing a painful Republican split between law-and-order hard-liners and reformers…

“The Senate majority leader is still telling supporters that there’s probably too little time to take up the bill, despite a broad bipartisan coalition support for it…”

LTWill
LTWill

Our relationship with our candidates isn’t the problem. It’s our relationship with ourselves. The USSR was our enemy for three generations. We turned on ourselves once the wall fell. There was a brief period in the early 2000’s when we were unified against terrorism. Not unified by ideology, but there was a civility that we hadn’t seen since. We turned on each other again. Only this time irrefutable facts are being challenged by emotional hypocrisy. Resentment is prized over intelligence. We work better as a nation when our focus is aimed at an enemy. This dysfunctional family doesn’t like sitting… Read more »

Gregs
Gregs

You are correct.

But the differences and polarization have ALWAYS existed. Now its becoming harder for the dominate group to simply impose it’s will on every one else and they’re not going out without a fight.

History supports what I’m saying. We’ve never been a singular nation. We’ve ALWAYS been a group thrown together by “fate” or “providence”. Now the dominant group’s power is being threatened and we’re living through the upheaval required for change.

Don’t dismiss what I’m saying out of hand because it threatens the orthodoxy. We’re in an age of upheaveal.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

The thing is, it’s not been the dominant group for a decade, but contrives to remain so via increasing disreputable measures. They know they’ve done wrong (as we all have). They’re afraid they’ll be treated as they’ve allowed others to be treated. Based on world experience, an extended period of minority rule won’t end well.