For too many years, We the People of the United States have endured the evils of factionalism predicted by James Madison in Federalist Paper #10. We have witnessed the steady erosion of Constitutional protections designed to protect against factionalism, namely, the separation of powers (eroded by partisan appointment of judges and legislative committee chairs, and the refusal of members of Congress or state legislatures to cross party lines to enact legislation for the greater good) and representative government (eroded by campaign financing of local and regional elections by partisan sources directed at a national level, and by gerrymandering of federal and state legislative districts for partisan gain.) We have learned the wisdom of Madison’s conclusion that the “violence of factions” cannot be easily prevented, because they are “sown in the nature of man.”
Through rose-colored glasses, we endured and even permitted these excesses because we saw them as merely temporary movements of a pendulum. “Yes,” we thought. “The right wing appears to be expressing an undue level of influence these days, but just wait! In a year or two the left wing will reassert itself, and then we will be complaining about the excesses coming from that direction at some point.”
But now we wonder. Is it possible that a single faction, one sufficiently dominant, could eradicate all of our most precious human rights, even those enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution? Have we ceded so much power to two entrenched partisan factions–the Republican and Democratic Parties–that we can no longer expect to enjoy the protections we thought our Constitution guaranteed?
Paradoxically, we cannot hope to eliminate the evils of partisanship by creating yet another partisan faction, even if we label it “nonpartisan.” Instead, we must find some way to agree, as citizens acting on behalf of the whole nation, that we can find ways to limit our own personal lust for power while striving for ways to promote the common good. Some of these ways may involve the creation of new governmental structures and systems that can be added to those identified in the Federalist Papers; perhaps structures and systems designed to combat the clever behaviors of factions that have been introduced, one by one, since the writing of the Federalist Papers. Others may be more fundamental, yet more difficult:
- We can insist that our Presidential candidates abide by formal rules of debate, including time frames for affirmative statements, rebuttals, and cross-examinations. While we understand that candidates may not wish to learn these rules (or abide by them), our consistent calling for a more rational form of debate may serve to improve the quality of political discourse.
- We can insist that schools of journalism increase current levels of instruction in courses aimed at improving the students’ command of critical reasoning skills.
- We can insist that all children be exposed to critical reasoning skills in elementary and secondary schools.
- Understanding that power often tends to follow sources of money, we can support news outlets and political candidates who embrace–through consistent application–the principles of a spirited reasoner seeking the greater good above all else.
- Above all, we can ourselves “reach across the aisles” to find agreement on these principles of rational debate with those whom we differ politically or ideologically. And we can find ways to praise and reward others who do this as well.
Only when politicians begin to see that nonpartisan behavior will be rewarded through increased political contributions, positive media comment and attention, and voter turnout, can we expect to see a return to at least a modicum of rational political progress.