While it’s true that the country is more deeply divided along partisan lines than it has been in the past, it is wrong to suggest a symmetrical devolution into irrational hatred. The polarization argument too often treats both sides as equally worthy of blame, characterizing the problem as a sort of free-floating affliction (e.g., “lack of trust”). This blurs the distinction between a Democratic Party that is marginally more progressive in policy positions than it was a decade ago, and a Republican Party that routinely lies, courts violence and seeks to define America as a White Christian nation.
The Republican Party’s tolerance of violence is not matched by Democrats. Nor is the Republican Party’s refusal to recognize the sanctity of elections. Democrats did not call the elections they lost in 2020 and 2021 “rigged,” nor are they seeking to replace nonpartisan election officials with partisan lawmakers. Republicans’ determination to change voting laws based on their insistence that Donald Trump won the 2020 election is without historical precedent.
The GOP’s willingness to force a default on the debt is likewise indicative of a party that has fallen into nihilism. And Republicans’ refusal to give a sitting president’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing followed by the effort to push through a nominee of their own party during an election shows the party lacks any modicum of restraint and respect for institutions.
Only one party conducts fake election audits, habitually relies on conspiracy theories and wants to limit access to the ballot. A recent study from the libertarian think tank R Street found: “In Republican states, legislation tended to scale back the availability of mail-in voting and ballot drop boxes and to provide more uniform, if not shorter, early voting windows. Meanwhile, in Democratic states, legislators sought to increase the availability of early voting not only by expanded voting windows but also by instating universal vote-by-mail.”
Only one party overwhelmingly refused to participate in a bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Only one party tolerates and defends House members who resort to violent imagery and harass fellow lawmakers. Talk of “secession” comes from only one party. Only one party is turning a vigilante who killed two people and seriously injured another into a folk hero. Only one party rises in defense of parents publicly threatening school boards. Only one party has taken to defending book-banning and book-burning. Governors of only one party are suing private companies and localities that follow coronavirus guidelines.
Only one party has a media machine that propagates misinformation (from conspiracy theories about the death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer to the blatant lies about Dominion Voting Systems) and foments racism with a steady diet of “replacement theory” rants and hyperventilation about immigrants. Only one party pounds away at the already debunked connection between crime and immigrants solely for the purpose of enraging and scaring voters.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had it almost right when she wrote in May, “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” The GOP has already decided. The answer is no.
When it comes to compromise, only one party refused to cast a single vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan. Only one party in the Senate (minus a lone Alaska Republican) categorically refuses to debate voting reform or to consider reauthorizing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Take any issue, and one can see the difference between mutual polarization and radicalization. It is not merely that Republicans want to restrict abortions; they dangle bounties for those who aid women who seek abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (roughly 85 percent of all abortions) and attempt to shield the legislation from judicial review.
Republicans no longer seek merely to defend the Second Amendment; they fetishize guns. As Second Amendment advocate David French writes, “The ‘gun picture’ is a common pose for populist politicians. Mark and Patricia McCloskey leveraged their clumsy and dangerous brandishing of weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters into an appearance at the Republican National Convention.”
Likewise, Republicans do not merely object to significant tax increases on the super rich and corporations; they reject any tax changes that would force them to pay something in taxes and refuse to adequately fund the Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes already owed.
At the other end of the spectrum, when a few Democrats and advocates started calling to “defund the police,” President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a slew of other Democratic leaders put the kibosh on such talk.
The “polarization” decriers cop out when describing the country in terms that suggest both sides are to blame. Honesty compels us to recognize that while progressives might have more ambitious goals for government, they work within the democratic structure and acknowledge reality. The same cannot be said of Republicans. Let’s face it: We would not have a democracy crisis and an epistemological crisis if not for the Republican Party.