Republicans Broke American Politics in These Three Ways

Republicans demonized government, radicalized their voters and created a conservative echo chamber.

View of the United States Capitol from the Washington Monument in Washington DC, March 18, 2011
View of the United States Capitol from the Washington Monument in Washington DC, March 18, 2011 (MudflapDC)

Political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein argue in The New York Times that the Democratic and Republican Parties don’t share the blame for the sorry state American politics are in.

Republicans are the ones who broke American politics, they write, in three ways:

  1. By demonizing government: Republicans have for decades attacked and dismantled institutions and flouted the norms of lawmaking, undermining the public’s trust in government.
  2. By opposing Barack Obama every step of the way: Even when he proposed policies Republicans once supported, like an individual health-insurance mandate. This radicalized conservative voters, who were told Republicans could bring the president to his knees if only they won a majority in Congress. The Obama effect had an ominous twist: an undercurrent of racism that was embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.
  3. By creating a conservative echo chamber: From the rise of talk radio in the 1980s, Fox News in the 90s, right-wing blogs in the early 2000s and social media in our time, conservatives have created a media ecosystem in which “alternative facts” thrive and hostility to the “establishment”, immigrations and Democrats boosts ratings.

Extreme

Trump does not represent a break with the recent past, according to Mann and Ornstein; he marks an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics.

Neither party is immune from a pull to the extreme, they write. But the imbalance today is striking — and frightening.

Our democracy requires vigorous competition between two serious and ideologically distinct parties, both of which operate in the realm of truth, see governing as an essential and ennobling responsibility and believe that the acceptance of republican institutions and democratic values define what it is to be an American. The Republican Party must reclaim its purpose.