Partisanship is human nature. James Madison once noted that the “causes of faction” are “sown in the nature of man” and cannot be cured.  Nor should there be any attempt to cure them because the “spirit of party and faction” was necessary.  The idea was to control the “mischiefs of faction.” [Federalist 9]

Partisanship in itself is not ugly. But considering members of other parties evil; that is unbecoming of reasonable people.

The American system of government handles intense partisanship really well.  It allows partisan groups to face off each other, but from that rivalry it carves out better solutions to social problems than each group could accomplish on its own.  This is the secret to America’s success.

America’s presidential system handles political parties differently than the British parliamentary system.  David Mayhew, famed Yale political scientist, has observed that in the U.S. political parties “play more of a role as ‘policy factions’ than as, in the British case, governing instruments.” It is so because in the U.S. system power is not handed to parties but to members of Congress and the executive branch individually.  And also because parties in America are decentralized institutions, due primarily to the fact that holding elections is a power given to states.  What also makes U.S. parties more responsive is the method of primary elections for selecting their candidates.

Partisan media is an important part of the process that allows good finger-pointing debates. Here is an example… excerpts from a story in The New York Times that tends to convey that being partisan is somehow against one’s own interest.  It’s a good attempt by a Democratic paper to wean readers off their support for a Republican President…

Why Americans Vote ‘Against Their Interest’: Partisanship

Working-class Americans who voted for Donald J. Trump continue to approve of him as president, even though he supported a health care bill that would disproportionately hurt them. Highly educated professionals tend to lean Democratic, even though Republican tax policies would probably leave more money in their pockets. Why do people vote against their economic interests?

The answer, experts say, is partisanship. Party affiliation has become an all-encompassing identity that outweighs the details of specific policies.

How Identity Drives Polarization

Starting in 1980, the National Election Study, a long-running survey that tracks Americans’ political preferences, showed that Republicans and Democrats were growing apart: Each reported increasingly negative opinions of the opposing party. And other data showed that polarization was seeping into nonpolitical arenas, making Republicans and Democrats less likely to marry or be friends.

When multiple identities line up together, all pushing people toward the same party, partisan identity becomes a kind of umbrella for many different characteristics that people feel are important to them. That magnifies people’s attachment to their team.

And that, in turn, raises the stakes of conflict with the opposing “team,” Ms. Mason found. In every electoral contest or partisan disagreement, she explained, people now feel that they are fighting for many elements of who they are: their racial identity, professional identity, religious identity, even geographical identity.

Wanting a Partisan Win, but Not a Policy One

The result of those overlapping, powerful identities is that Americans have become more willing to defend their party against any perceived threat, and to demand that their politicians take uncompromisingly partisan stands.

That helps explain why Mr. Trump’s support among Republican voters remains quite high, even though the first few months of his presidency have been plagued by scandals and political setbacks, and even though his overall national approval ratings are now very low. He has been careful to recast every potential scandal and policy struggle as a battle against the Democrats and other outside groups.

Republican voters may not be happy with everything the president does — many, for instance, have told reporters that they would prefer him to tweet less often, and others worry about how his health care plans will affect their families — but he is still the captain of their “team.” Abandoning him would mean betraying tribal allegiance, and all of the identities that underlie it.

 

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