We hear those words these days and shudder. It seems like more than ever, politics has found its way into every part of our lives. Family gatherings are relegated as “no politics allowed.” Social media feeds are curated to very particular political leanings and to be unfollowed or unfriended based on a political opinion is expected.
We hear those words and think warring factions. For quite some time now, the only thing guaranteed to come from Capitol Hill has been bitterness and tantrum-throwing. It’s looked a bit more like a massive playground tumult than it has lawmakers working from the most powerful stage in the world.
We hear those words and we immediately put ourselves into one camp or the other, ready to either fight it out with passion or flee the scene immediately in an attempt to avoid arguing one intransigent position to another.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. There have essentially been two main parties for the majority of American political history, but they didn’t always seems so far apart. In the 1950s, some political scientists even argued that Republicans and Democrats were so alike that people couldn’t even tell the difference between the two parties at all.
Any American Government textbook will tell you that the goal of political parties in a representative democracy is to create a simplified and distinct menu of political choices. Voters don’t get a say on every single decision made in our complex political system. It’s exactly as the founding fathers designed it. The average American citizen doesn’t know enough about, say, foreign affairs, to decide if and when American troops should be deployed into a combat zone. But when we vote, we pick the party that basically aligns with how we feel about foreign affairs generally, and then we trust the person representing that party to make the decision for us. The same can be said for any issue on the political spectrum.
So back in the 1950s, the menus each party put out were so strikingly similar that they had failed to give the American people much of a choice at all. People involved in politics had a hard time telling the difference between parties 70 years ago. That’s definitely not the case today. You don’t have to be involved or even interested in politics to know where each party stands on certain issues.
If the purpose of political parties is to give us diametrically opposed menus of political options, then ladies and gentlemen, the Republicans and Democrats of the 2000s have handily exceeded all expectations.
There is no question about where each party stands. And the gap between the two seems to just keep getting deeper and broader as time goes by.
I don’t know that the gap is a problem. People are never going to agree 100% on any of the issues at hand. The U.S. population is 331,449,281 according to the 2020 census. That means there are likely 331,449,281 political opinions out there — and neither party fully captures any of them. So political difference is always going to be there.
What’s dangerous about our political gulf today is not that there is a divide, but rather that our politicians don’t seem to be willing to bridge it in order to get things done.
And yet, there seems to be a small breeze of reprieve in the usually vitriolic and acerbic political atmosphere we’ve come to find ourselves in.
The newly agreed upon infrastructure bill framework sends shining stars of hope across our political galaxy — not because the Republicans and Democrats who backed the bill suddenly jumped ship and became members of the other party — but because they did what their job required of them. They compromised for the greater good of the American people.
We need an infrastructure plan — badly. Our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair. And probably even more crucially, our electrical grid is a catastrophe waiting to happen. We need politicians to cross the ever-widening gulf and work together to get this done.
The bill has a long way to go. And there are massive pitfalls that could derail it. But just the idea that in a political atmosphere as tenuous as ours is today, the picture of Republicans and Democrats standing together in a room and acknowledging that both sides need to give a little in order to make progress happen, gives us hope that our political system has not failed. We can function.
I personally hope they figure it out. We need an infrastructure bill. And we need the hope that our politicians are for us as their constituents. We need to believe that the people we have placed our trust in to represent our political opinions are more committed to us than they are to a party platform. The divide will always be there. And it should. We just need more politicians who are willing to cross it.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at email@example.com.