Building a resilient democracy: Unmasking the true threats
Becvar serves as Chief Operating Officer of the Bridge Alliance.
In our highly charged political climate, the assertion that polarization is the most urgent issue facing America is a statement often heard (and repeated). But is it truly the crux of the matter?
The May newsletter from Horizons Project brought forward a perspective on this topic by offering reference to a podcast featuring Shannon McGregor called “Is this Democracy.” McGregor challenges the notion that polarization is the core problem, suggesting instead that the major threat to American democracy lies in the radicalizing right. By labeling polarization as the main issue, we may be taking an easy way out, avoiding the critical examination of the actual problem at hand, and fostering an unhealthy rhetoric of reconciliation.
On the latest “How Do We Fix It?” podcast, Bill Shireman discussed the notion that the majority of common-sense voters defy the prevailing divided paradigm. Their discussion highlighted how the recent debt ceiling compromise highlighted that party leaders could work together when necessary, even while their members fan the flames of partisan blame. Similarly, the Democracy Works podcast delved into the perverse incentives and resulting behaviors within the current political system that significantly challenge democracy. Addressing this challenge requires the dedication of public servants and constituents who reject candidates playing games with the well-being of our nation.
Acknowledging the radicalizing aspect of some of America’s political right, anti-Trump conservatives have taken action. In a featured piece in The Fulcrum, David L. Nevins highlights the efforts of organizations like the Renew America Movement, Stand Up Republic, RePAIR, and The New Conservatives Summit. Moreover, Republican lawmakers supporting the For Our Freedom Amendment were recently highlighted by American Promise. The Election Reformers Network reminds us that we can’t always assume the worst about political actors, as evidenced by Republicans’ involvement in the Electoral Count Reform Act. However, recent legislative actions by Texas Republicans on election rules serve as a stark reminder of the challenges we continue to face.
At the Bridge Alliance, we firmly believe that there is no single solution to cure the ailments of our democracy. A recent study by More in Common, reported by the American Values Coalition, revealed that correcting misperceptions about those from the “other party” reduced partisan animosity - but the effect disappeared within a week. This study reinforces the importance of adopting a multi-level approach to address these issues. We need dedicated leaders, and constituents must demand more from them.
Democracy relies on an informed and engaged citizenry, making civic education key to a democratic future. It empowers individuals to evaluate information critically and demand better news reporting. Engaging in conversations with those outside our comfort zones is vital to becoming better civic stewards. Applying hard-earned insights from the peacebuilding and mediation field is essential to be effective. We also need structural changes in how and with what funding we elect our representatives to ensure a healthy democracy.Fortunately, our nation has a growing and dynamic ecosystem of individuals and organizations tirelessly working towards shared goals. They continue to persevere despite facing backlash and personal risk, driven by their determination to build a stronger democracy for all. Most importantly, they demonstrate that addressing the underlying issues, rather than risking complacency by labeling them all as simply ‘polarization,’ is essential. Only by confronting the genuine threats to our democracy can we pave the way for a more resilient and healthy democratic future.