Today’s political polarization runs so deep that it is being weaponized against us by our adversaries. When Russian operatives infected our electoral process with online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in our politics, they found our democratic immune system already severely weakened by division and distrust.
Our susceptibility to foreign manipulation is yet another byproduct of poisonous, zero-sum politics perpetuated by both political parties that pits one American against another.
We can’t say that George Washington didn’t warn us. In his prescient farewell address, Washington said: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge...is itself a frightful despotism.” He warned that, “mischiefs of the spirit of party” would, among a litany of other things, serve to “[open] the door to foreign influence and corruption.” Washington also said it was the “duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain [factions].”
Today, our political system is stuck in a destructive, self-reinforcing cycle of divisiveness and dysfunction. It threatens not only to undermine our governing institutions, but also fray the very fabric of our society. Both political parties have found advantage in fueling partisanship and have no incentive to self-correct. Without new competition to shake up our two-party system, we cannot reasonably expect anything to change.
The patriotic duty to transcend partisan tribalism and refocus our politics on the common good is why we are running for U.S. Senate unaffiliated with any political party and leading a new movement, Unite America, to elect common-sense, independent candidates to office across the country.
Make no mistake, America’s two-party system has worked well in the past — when both political parties worked together. In the 20th century, a majority of both parties in Congress came together to enact Social Security, pass the Civil Rights Act, reform welfare and yes, even balance the federal budget.
But our two-party system ceases to function when the forces that divide us become more numerous and powerful than the forces that unite us. Over the last two decades, the scales have been tipped by an increasingly fragmented media, ideologically homogeneous communities (online and offline), the influence of special interest money in politics and the very mechanics of our elections — from the way we draw districts to the way we run primaries.
The impact has been staggering. Between 1994 and 2016, according to Pew Research, the number of Democrats and Republicans claiming to have a “very unfavorable” view of the other party have nearly tripled from around 20% to nearly 60%.
In 1994, more than a third of senators and more than half of representatives fell on the ideological spectrum between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican, according to the National Journal. By 2011, that overlap — effectively, the “political center” — entirely disappeared and left many Americans without a voice in Washington.
Now politicians of both political parties move farther to their respective ideological extremes and fuel partisan flames in order to gain attention, raise money and win votes. Our new normal, as a result, has become political dysfunction that either prevents action on critical issues or, in the case of health care and tax reform, sees one party ram through its agenda only for the other party to become committed to its repeal.
The only way out of this morass is through new electoral competition that can fundamentally change the current political paradigm. The American people know it, and they are calling for it. Gallup finds that there are now more self-identified political independents (44%) than either Democrats or Republicans, and a sizeable majority of voters (61%) believe both parties do such a poor job representing them that an alternative is needed.
Independent candidates are answering the call. For the first time, there is a credible, competitive and coordinated slate of independent candidates running for state legislatures, governorships and Congress under a common banner and shared principles — along with the necessary electoral infrastructure to level the playing field.
These independent leaders can make a difference in office. In narrowly divided legislatures, such as the Senate, just two to threeindependents could have a transformative impact by denying both parties an outright majority and using their leverage in holding the balance of power to inject new ideas and help forge common-sense policy solutions. Independents elected to the state houses in Alaska and Maine in 2016 are already proving the power of this fulcrum strategy as they help advance important budget and health care reforms in their states.
The alarmingly effective attacks on our democracy that exploit our divisions should serve as a clarion call for Democrats, Republicans and independents to join together in a common cause to re-unite America. In 2018, electing independent leaders who can bridge the growing partisan divide and put country over party is a good place to start.
This op-ed appeared in USA Today on February 27, 2018.