Why America Is Polarized

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In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court by a 50-48 vote in the Senate, one of the narrowest margins in history according to The Washington Post, “an increasingly polarized nation” is pushed to the brink.

The words polarized and divided have become shorthand for these type of party line votes that end up almost evenly split. But this shorthand misses the bigger picture that helps to explain the polarization — America is not evenly split. Even before the allegations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh was one of the most unpopular Justice nominees ever. He was “rammed through” and installed on the highest court by a group of 51 Senators representing states with 46% of the U.S. electorate. Here are the seeds of the polarization.

It is difficult to admit, but Trump was right about something. In 2016, when he said the election was being rigged, he was right — just not in the way he meant it (unless he meant the Russian meddling).

Putting aside Russian meddling, the election was rigged to maintain a minority rule in our government. In an interesting parallel with the Kavanaugh vote, Trump became president with 46% of the vote, but won the electoral college because of 78,000 votes across three key states.

More importantly, 2016 was another year of a Republican “seat bonus” in the House. After winning just under 50% of the congressional vote, the GOP picked up a little more than 55% of the seats. I have written about this before, including here and here. This has been happening for the past several cycles. Gerrymandering is a part of this, but so, too, is the fact the representation is still based on the 1910 Census. This is increasing the power of rural, lightly populated — and generally Republican leaning — states.

The Senate is different, as it is meant to represent states, while the House represents people. Part of the concern around the disappearing norms of Senate behavior over the past decade or so is the way it has heightened partisanship in what was once a place of comity, that rose above narrow interests for the greater good, that embodied country over party. But that came from the traditional practices of the Senate, not Constitutional mandate. The Founding Fathers warned us about factions.

Now, the minority faction rules and it has stoked the “polarization” the press likes to talk about because the will of the people is not being met. Whether it’s on healthcare, regulating banks, paying to fix infrastructure, or many other key issues of the day, the position of the ruling Republican Party is the opposite of the majority opinion in the country.

For example, look at some of the hot button issues that Kavanaugh may decide on the Court, abortion and gun control. According to Pew Research, by a nearly 60-40 margin Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That stat is about the same as it was 20 years ago. On gun control, Gallup polling shows an even starker difference with 67% in favor of more strict laws, while 32% say keep as it is now or make it less strict (28% and 4% respectively).

The installation of Kavanaugh is the culmination of a decades long effort by Republicans to undermine democracy in favor of a “permanent majority” that I wrote about last month and looks to be a similar subject of the new Steve Kornacki book The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism that I am looking forward to reading. For noted conservative Tom Nichols, Kavanaugh represented the “situational ethics” of the GOP that showed the “Republican Party now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power,” as he put it in The Atlantic today as he announced his “divorce” from the party.

As the GOP thwarts the will of the American people and looks to cling to power by any means possible — Gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc (including Russian help?) — it is a good time to remember who is in the majority, make a plan to vote in November, and have a Three To One Cocktail.

This pre-Prohibition drink from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel comes via Dr. Cocktail Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book. It is:

1.5 oz 100-proof gin (I used Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin)

.75 oz apricot liqueur

Juice of half a lime (.5-.75 oz)

Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lime wedge.

Cheers!

 

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