Food for Thought

America’s democratic institutions were challenged on several occasions during the twentieth century, but each of these challenges was effectively contained. The guardrails held, as politicians from both parties — and often, society as a whole — pushed back against violations that might have threatened democracy. As a result, episodes of intolerance and partisan warfare never escalated into the kind of “death spiral” that destroyed democracies in Europe in the 1930s and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.

We must conclude with a troubling caveat, however. The norms sustaining our political system rested, to a considerable degree, on racial exclusion. The stability of the period between the end of Reconstruction and the 1980s was rooted in an original sin: the Compromise of 1877 and its aftermath, which permitted the de-democratization of the South and the consolidation of Jim Crow. Racial exclusion contributed directly to the partisan civility and cooperation that came to characterize twentieth-century American politics. The “solid South” emerged as a powerful conservative force within the Democratic Party, simultaneously vetoing civil rights and serving as a bridge to Republicans. Southern Democrats’ ideological proximity to conservative Republicans reduced polarization and facilitated bipartisanship. But it did so at the great cost of keeping civil rights — and America’s full democratization — off the political agenda.

America’s democratic norms, then, were born in a context of exclusion. As long as the political community was restricted largely to whites, Democrats and Republicans had much in common. Neither party was likely to view the other as an existential threat. The process of racial inclusion that began after World War Two and culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act would, at long last, fully democratize the United States. But it would also polarize it, posing the greatest challenge to established forms of mutual toleration and forbearance since Reconstruction.
How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Another take on the present polarization in America is Politics Is More Partisan Now, But It’s Not More Divisive:

The issues we fight over — gender, race, immigration, culture and the role of government — divide Americans neatly and consistently under party labels. The current moment feels divisive because major policy and political questions are “sorted” between the parties — Republicans are mostly unified around one set of answers, and Democrats are mostly unified around another.

American history is also riddled with divisions, including over many of the same questions that divide us now. In particular, race and immigration have long fueled intense fights. The difference is that much of the historical conflict on these issues occurred within parties, so we have to look beyond the tensions between Republicans and Democrats to understand it. Or, often these fights remained outside of electoral politics altogether, and thus those issues went unaddressed. While they might have made for some quieter presidential election years, these dynamics masked serious problems, like inequality, exclusion and violence.

We’re living in historic times. It helps to remember “the good old days” weren’t perfect either.


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10 Responses to Food for Thought

  1. Cathy in NZ says:

    this similar to a comment I made about India’s growing economy – the “traditional old guard” just can’t understand that they are now fossils. The new generation is able to move easily around the globe (okay not to every country) but on average, the telecommunications is no longer dependent on the pigeon, the stage coach or even the ordinary mail man with his documents…

    yes there still needs to be some basic rules, but it seems to me that some countries, now don’t completely get what that standard could be…hard to explain but I think you will get my drift…

    • Jean says:

      The two big issues here are racism and immigration. I have the impression those aren’t causing as much problem in NZ as they are here?

    • Cathy in NZ says:

      we may be smaller in populace but most of the worldwide arenas including racism and immigration are rife here…of course only the “bad disastrous news” hits the stands here on those matters. We don’t of course have a border with another country though…we have plenty of people seeking to live here, for all kinds of reasons. I believe that Asians are the biggest migrants – but there is a quite few other ethnic groups coming.

      i have no idea how easy it is to migrate here…not knowing anyone trying to do that, or has done it. My neighbours are migrants and have only been here a short while, i seem to recall it took a long time to become permanent residents with citizenship…

      Sometimes we joke, would the true Aucklander born in the region – “please stand up…” I wasn’t born here either, I born down country.

    • Cathy in NZ says:

      oops i think my neighbours here a longish time, waiting for permanent residence but PR maybe shorter period of time… I have only picked up it through general chat, I have asked the exact time frame.

  2. Cathy in NZ says:

    could someone come and bop me on the head my grammar has gone haywire…I haveN’T asked the time frame…

  3. Jean says:

    Immigration is a world-wide problem now and more and more people will be forced to migrate if they can. It’s a sad mess.

  4. Rummuser says:

    The issues here are too many to list. As Cathy points out, the establishment of the Nehruvian heritage which held power for near seven decades is increasingly getting marginalised by the non English speaking masses and since the former control the media, this is having a funny effect of the majority being under attack from these so called left liberal intellectuals. The current party in power in the center and the majority of states is considered to be Hindu Nationalist, and this is galling to the earlier dispensation.

    Interesting times indeed.
    Rummuser´s last blog post ..Mumbai Local Train – 2.

  5. Cathy in NZ says:

    it is indeed interesting times, but dependent on one personally whether you would actually spend the time “in thought’, or whether you took a stance upon it by getting involved is another matter entirely.

    I can’t remember which blog I said something like, I will keep doing what I do, unless for some reason I need to drastically change, a policy/rule that I must obey. If I should become involved with something, that I wlll make a decision at that point…whether it be minor or major issue/s…

    right now my stance on the driveway and the 2 landlords is basically stunned… but I have decided to do something about it myself. As I said on my own blog, I can only manage short stints because of the humidity right now…this morning, maybe 2 metres from letterbox down – removed greenery, found I could scrape some loose other (soil/rubble) along the edge – building it up.

    We shouldn’t need to mow it and it will protect the edge…

    a long way to go…and I probably won’t get much done this long w/end but I will do it…slowly

    (it kind of links to your thoughts, relating to people’s ideas about life…)

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