Bill Galston on Polarization

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American politics has become more polarized--but is this necessarily a bad thing? In some ways, Bill Galston notes, the US political system has made what looks like progress over recent decades. The parties have grown less alike, giving voters more choice. They commit themselves to distinct agendas, and actually try to implement them. These are things that American political scientists used to advocate. In these respects you could say US politics has become more effective. And yet...

[T]he unending high-decibel partisan warfare of the past decade has led many Americans to look back with nostalgia on the more consensual if muddled party system that persisted until the 1970s...

Can we honestly say that today's mistrust--between the political parties, and between citizens and their government--remains within Madisonian bounds? Can we judge our party system healthy if it fosters this mistrust?  If we knew how to change it, would we choose to perpetuate a situation in which the very process of self-government stands in such disrepute?  These are not the questions of an aging academic looking back with nostalgia.  They are the concerns of a citizen looking forward with alarm. Our adversaries around the world will never be able to harm us as much as we are now harming ourselves. And if our party system remains as it is, this process of self-destruction will only get worse.

The essay is essential reading, and I'll have more to say about it later.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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