Over the past decade, growing resentment of an unchanging political status quo has created an environment where populism and tribalism thrive. To make matters worse, politicians on the left and right in America have capitalized on these grievances.
This is the hyperpartisan culture war, where increasingly radical and uncompromising political factions seek to leverage our division to cement their own power.
If we want a better future, we must reject divisiveness and address the deep-rooted causes of this problem. Failing to do so will see this hostility spinning further out of control and the destruction of our Republic.
A handful of people control all the political levers
Congress has become nothing more than a performative body with no meaningful opportunities for individual members to affect change. Since 2012, just three people (The Speaker of the House, the president, and the Senate Majority Leader) control all the levers of power.
This began when the ability of individual members of Congress to submit legislative amendments was restricted by Speaker Boehner and later ended by Speaker Ryan — a house rule that has been maintained by subsequent Speakers, whether Democrat or Republican.
In the context of Congressional dysfunction since 2012, regulatory agencies issued twenty-nine times more rules than democratically elected representatives, this has ramped up further in recent years. Unelected bureaucrats are taking the place of Congress.
Furthermore, power has been consolidated by party leadership to the extent of assuming complete control over their members. Refuse to vote with the party and you will see your committee assignments stripped away and your party turn against you by funding primary challengers.
Consolidation of power has made the quest for authority paramount
The massive consolidation of executive powers over the last two decades has created an environment where the quest for authority has become an existential imperative for the left and the right.
The United States was founded with a restrained federal government for a reason. With so much cultural diversity spread out across such a vast geographic area, the idea that one entity could fully understand the considerations of over 300 million Americans is ludicrous. Smaller political entities are always more effective at representation than larger ones.
Both parties benefit from the tribalism of the culture war
The result is politicians and voters who rarely define themselves by their own ideals, but rather define themselves in opposition to the “existential danger” posed by the opposing side.
Negative campaigning and demonization of the other side has proven to be an effective tool in increasing voter turnout and raising funds for political PACs.
This political pressure leaves those invested in the culture war believing that they can only gain at their opponent’s expense, while in reality the only beneficiaries are the political figures driving the division.
Despite the loud tribalists, most people understand the world is a complicated and nuanced place, and adopting a single-minded view isn’t helpful. This artificial political binary does not represent the will of the people, instead they only represent an increasingly loud fringe minority on either side.
In seeking solutions, we must reject the voices of tribalism
The presumption of authority must be rejected. Instead, we must operate under the presumption of liberty, whereby people are free to live as they please, unless by doing so they exact harm on the liberty of others.
Just because the culture war is at its zenith doesn’t mean it has to stay. We must make the case for a return to a principled federalism and promote voices that stand up to their parties despite the repercussions. It is important that elected representatives be reminded of the oath they have taken to uphold the Constitution and defend liberty.
Young people must lead the charge in fighting for the liberty of all, not just a select few
The next generation must own this fight by taking a stand against the culture war, demanding our leaders return to the ideas of pluralism, federalism, individuality, and an attitude of “live and let live.”
As a resource in this fight, Students For Liberty elevates, platforms, and provides resources to student voices fighting for the liberty of all people. SFL is committed to empowering the next generation of leaders for liberty.
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This article was originally published on the Students For Liberty website in October 2021.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.