6.3.2.8 Confrontation and Polarisation

Politicians tend to attack each other in democracies, in their unceasing struggle to gain and retain power.  Their political posturing leads them to adopt a confrontational stance towards each other, rather than taking a centrist approach to negotiate a compromise.  The nature of the confrontations depends upon the number of political parties, which partly depends upon the voting system (6.3.2.4).

Systems of proportional representation allow voters to choose between multiple political parties: either representing the many possible political ideologies and approaches to government (6.2.6), or cultural identities such as Christian Democrat parties in Europe.  The politicians tend to emphasise their party credentials to get elected and they subsequently adopt confrontational postures in coalition governments to differentiate themselves – as when Matteo Salvini turned back a ship of migrants trying to come to Italy: an action for which he faces prosecution.

Two-party systems, such as those in Britain and America which use a ‘first-past-the-post’ system of voting, can polarise the electorate.  An article The Disintegration of the American Nation shows a mixture of fear and anger:

“The foundational ethnicity and ideas embodied in the Constitution are not only under attack but opposed as racist and exploitative. This attack manifests itself most prominently in the educational system to which our children are subjected, bullied, and indoctrinated. The Democrat Party has institutionalized this attack on America through its primary focus of racial politics.

In fact, history itself is under attack and is systematically being cleansed and abolished.”

The author apparently objected to the idea that all children should be taught about the history of slavery.  White supremacists, claiming to belong to the “foundational ethnicity”, feel that they are being attacked; they use terms such as “woke” and “cancel culture” to describe such teaching – yet children cannot understand today’s America without knowing about its past.  Some British media, with leanings towards reactionary conservatism (6.2.4.5), express similar opposition to ‘wokeness’ – and can quote some examples of when it becomes silly, such as the Telegraph headline: Churchill College panel claims wartime PM was a white supremacist leading an empire ‘worse than the Nazis’.  There is now an absurd confrontation between the ‘woke’, who are trying to suppress the expression of views that they think are politically incorrect, and those who condemn them.  It has become a question of identity politics and balanced discussion has become very difficult.

A pattern of confrontation rather than negotiation can either lead to political deadlock or to abrupt policy reversals when there is a change in government.

There is a centrist area of overlap between the major political ideologies and approaches to government, as described earlier (6.2.6.3).  When the U.S. Constitution is working well, Congress approves legislation that falls within the overlap – but now there is little common ground in the polarised condition of American politics.  An Economist article in 2014, If the Republicans win the Senate…., summarised the impact of divisions between the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives over more than 30 years – highlighting moments of complete stalemate in a pattern that continues to recur.

There has been an increasing use of executive orders in response to legislative obstruction in America.  Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders in his first 3 months in office: overturning Barack Obama’s policies on protecting the environment, for example.  Four years later, Joe Biden signed 15 executive orders on his first day in office to reverse Trump’s policies.  This is unsettling internally and it undermines a country’s external relationships, as described in Jonathan Kirshner’s article, Gone But Not Forgotten: describing “Trump’s Long Shadow and the End of American Credibility”.

The polarisation continues, heightened by the “echo chamber effect” of Internet social media that reinforce people’s beliefs, as described later (6.4.2.6), and by partisan news media (6.4.3).  Donald Trump’s supporters form a large group of voters who are behaving like a tribe that won’t accept the wishes of the majority of Americans.  As noted in a blog post on this website, Trump and the GOP, his refusal to leave office and the lies that he has told have split the Republican Party and have undermined democracy.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll in April 2021 showed that a Majority of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump five months after the election.

Back

Next Section

This is a new page, uploaded since the publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6328b.htm