You already recognize one way in which this idea has been tainted. Partisan redistricting and the pattern of Americans moving into homogeneous political communities means there are fewer areas where there are actual transitions between parties. Whether you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Mississippi, you have no hope of being represented in the Senate by a member of your party.
This is a problem we don’t often recognize. I interviewed Corrine McConnaughy of Princeton University last year, and she expressed concern about the lack of institutions that let “people feel that they are adequately represented, that their voices feel heard adequately.” What is important in democracy is that “people understand that losing today is not losing tomorrow.” With recourse for changing direction. If people feel that politics will not affect the electoral, they look for other mechanisms to do so.
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Now we are putting this at another risk, as demonstrated by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin at a rally last week. Palin is running for a safe seat in Alaska’s Republican House and facing a rally with former president Donald Trump. He threw the election in clear terms, which in broad measures is not uncommon for a candidate. But the phrase Palin uses is moral, existential.
“It’s life changing what’s coming here in the midterms, the changes that are needed,” Palin told the cheering audience. “And it’s no longer Democrat versus Republican. It’s about control over freedom. “
Then, a bigger contrast: “It is good against evil. It is a spiritual battle. ”
It’s on-brand for Palin. His arrival on the national political scene in 2008 was as John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, a choice made because McCain’s team believed he could provide invigorating power-and attract more-right, often evangelical voters to vote. During the Trump era, evangelical voters were part of the party’s success. Palin, of course, already spoke the language.
Trump’s campaign and presidency have centered on widening cracks within the country, strictly responding to the demands of his base and working vigorously to score political points against the hated left. Many evangelicals see this in religious terms. In early 2019, a poll found that half of White evangelical Christians believe God wants Trump to be president. He was their outspoken, unequivocal defender-not because he shared their beliefs (although many convinced themselves that he did) but because he understood that rising up in defense of religious rights would strengthen his own position in politics. He promised to defend them, and he did. In 2016, he won the evangelicals by 61 points. In 2020, by 69.
That the country has become more polarized is well documented. Members of every major political party view the opposition in increasingly unfavorable terms over the past 20 years, as measured by the American National Election Study conducted each presidential year. As recently as 2000, the median “temperature” score given to the other party by Republicans and Democrats was more than 40 out of 100, with lower numbers indicating a “colder” outlook on the party. By 2020, both parties have a median of less than 20.
Again, some of this probably came from our political isolation. We often live close to those from the opposing party, but we don’t necessarily include them in our lives. The Pew Research Center found in the summer of 2020 that nearly 1 in 5 supporters of Trump or Joe Biden have more than a few friends who support another candidate. Four in 10 don’t know who.
Such division and such skepticism about the opposition makes it easier to place other partisans as dangerous or evil, a framing facilitated by the country’s increased reliance on the partisan media universe. Shortly after Biden took office, CBS News published a poll conducted by YouGov that found that approximately 4 out of 10 Democrats viewed Republicans not as political opponents but as enemies. More than half of Republicans said they viewed Democrats as enemies.
Consider how the integration of religion into politics exacerbates the feeling of political powerlessness. If you think you have little way to be heard through the electoral process at do you see your side as fighting in the name of a divinely motivated goal? Dangerous.
This is not new dangerous, certainly. In his seminal essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter described the frustration of the right with a perceived political elite more than half a century before the present moment.
“The situation becomes worse when representatives of a particular social interest – perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealistic nature of its demands – are shut out of the political process. Because there is no access to political bargaining or making those decision, they saw their original notion that the world of power was sinful and malicious fully confirmed. “
Palin speaks to an audience about the dangers of leaders promoting measures such as mask orders, something which many Americans, in fact, have no real way of – besides, of course, not just following. Commandments are, in fact, often described as evil and malicious. In his speech, shortly after the “good versus evil” bit, Palin called the emergence of the coronavirus “plandemic” and suggested that the elites wanted the economy to decline.
The particular problem here will be always be a level of management over which one person has no control. Even if you live in Oklahoma, along with conservative members of the House, senators and state -level officials, Biden is still president. The House and Senate are still Majority-Democratic. Even if Republicans recover a federal trifecta, you have little way for, say, the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is the purpose of placing the government as an enemy; there are endless opportunities to make some part of it despotic. To put it as evil.
Last summer, Pew asked Americans how they felt about leaders from their own party describing officials of the other party as evil. Most think that it should not be considered acceptable. Just under half of Republicans thought the party should be “very” or “somewhat” receptive to such rhetoric.
If you convince people that elections are fights between two ends of the moral plane, the consequences of defeat rise sharply. If you claim the election itself is dishonest, that your side is “shut out of the political process” (as Hofstadter said) without breaking the law, you are causing a crisis.
At 4:17 pm on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump released a video responding to the violence still going on in the Capitol.
“We had an election stolen from us,” Trump said. “It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you need to go home now. We need to have peace. ”
“Come home, we love you. You’re very special, ”he added later. And then, secretly: “You’ve seen what’s going on. You see the way others are treated very badly and very badly. “
The rioters of that day are good; their opponents are evil. Soon, social media sites scrubbed the video from their platforms, worried that it might incite more violence.