As we prepare for yet another hyperpartisan election cycle in the US, many of us wonder whether we’re rushing headlong into a Civil War.
Let me be clear, though I have some fears of the US politics devolving into a Civil War post November elections, I also think it’s unlikely. I’m certainly no expert in the field of Civil Wars and nobody has a crystal ball. We’ve had escalating tension since early 2010s that eventually led to the January 6th 2021 uprising by a select few who wrongfully believed the US elections were illegitimate. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had something similar to this again after this election cycle, no matter who wins the Presidency and gains control of either or both chambers of US Congress.
However, though US has had a long history of mixed turbulence and calm times, as is chronicled in The Fourth Turning, the risk of civil war in the US is likely low. There are definitely worrying signs of increased polarization and tensions. To that end, we must be vigilant and take steps to address hyperpartisanship and tensions in the political system.
This is why I’m writing today as I head to the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers‘ Annual Summit where I’ll be speaking and hear from many changemakers. Below, I’m highlighting some of the things we can do to give us sanity and, most importantly, ensure our democracy is preserved and even made to thrive.
I’ll name some organizations that are already working in this space towards nonpartisan solutions with which you can get involved.
The first way way is to foster a culture of constructive dialogue and debate, rather than vilifying opponents and demonizing those with different political views.
I’ve been surprised at times when I engaged with and ended up enjoying my conversations with those who disagree with me the most. By working with organizations such as Braver Angels, taking a number of their workshops and attending their unique online debates, I’ve learned to better listen to people. I’ve also learned that my perspective and views aren’t the only solution to a problem. What’s more, vilifying people I disagree with may make me feel better, but it doesn’t address the problems we’re trying to solve.
Braver Angels has a number of programs worth looking into it. To learn how to have better conversations, attend one of their workshops or debates. To teach your politicians to better listen and work with one another, get involved with their Braver Politics programs. There are also programs that involve improvements for our media companies and school campuses.
How We Vote
Another factor that plays a big role in creating inherent incentives for our politicians and citizens to behave poorly is how we vote. I wrote a while back about how our democracy can be resuscitated through Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). RCV ensures that, whether through the primaries or general election, we elect a majority winner for a seat when there are multiple people running for it.
Our current system of plurality voting means that a person with only 20 or 30% of the votes could win a seat. In other words 70 to 80% of the citizens didn’t vote for that person. Effectively, this also means that a candidate is persuaded and driven by the will of a minority of the population that’s potentially more extreme and non-representative of the majority.
This system of plurality voting creates incentives for politicians to become more extreme in their views in order to win only that 20 or 30% of the votes during the primaries. As a result, we hold our noses and vote against the other side to elect the lesser of two evils…even if the person we’re voting for represents extremist views on our side of the political spectrum.
There are many organizations working to bring about RCV in various states. This is one reform that’s gathering momentum nationwide with national organizations like Rank the Vote and Fair Vote, as well as regional or statewide organizations like Cal RCV, of which I’m an active contributor, as well as executive and board member.
I recommend reviewing action plans for the national organizations as well as finding your local efforts that can often be named something like Better Ballot X or More Choice X (where X is the name of your city, county or state). You can simply become a subscriber and let them know you support their efforts, or more actively help them pass RCV through your donations, volunteerism or employment with them.
Dark Money In Politics
Another way to significantly improve democracy is to address the systemic issues that drive hyperpartisanship and undermine our democratic system through dark money. Though people and organizations, especially big donors, have always attempted to influence our politics, the largest influence with multi-million dollar spends common in our politics today that seem to be spiraling out of control were born of two US Supreme Court cases of FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2008) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010). With Citizens United, specifically, corporations were deemed as persons and, as a result, could exercise their “free speech” through political contributions.
Though it’s difficult, a sound step to combat dark money is to pass a constitutional amendment. This has been proposed a few times already (see here, here and here). Arguably, we’re due for some constitutional amendments, not just one for dark money, given the lack of solutions for many of our social and political ills. This is evident when you review the timeline for the various amendments and see how they coincided with the political and social ills or challenges of their times.
American Promise is one of the more active organizations pursuing such an amendment. They’re gathering momentum in their efforts to get support from all 50 states. As of this writing, they have support from 22 of the 50. That’s nearly half and includes many of the New England, some mid west and all west coast states. You can help by reviewing their plan and signing on to ensure your state would support such an amendment. They have defined the necessary steps you can take to ensure the amendment passes, including voting for candidates who support the amendment.
Overall, while the risk of civil war in the US may be low, it’s still quite important to address the various issues and cultural factors that have led to the hyperpartisanship and tensions we experience.
Hopefully you’ve become motivated and see a path forward by reading about the organizations and ideas outlined here. I encourage you to reach out and become engaged with these organizations or others similar to them.
The most important thing to remember is that we’re not helpless. Let’s take action by supporting, donating, volunteering and finding work with a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to bring all of us together and motivate our politicians to become better versions of themselves.
I’d like to close out with a quote I’ve come to admire. It’s not lost on me that what I’m about to quote is from our president before the US Civil War broke out, but I also believe Abraham Lincoln’s closing remarks on his first inaugural address are the proper message emphasizing we are one nation and that we must all rise to “the better angels of our nature”:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”– Abraham Lincoln, Closing Remarks at His First Inaugural Speech