Despite what political campaigns say, one election won’t determine the fate of US democracy – Marin Independent Journal


Voters cast ballots at First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

Over the next 10 months, billions of dollars in political machinery will serve up apocalyptic narratives about where our country is headed. Candidates will speak in partisan absolutes, framing the consequences of the 2024 general election as existential. Many will want us to believe that next year’s election will determine the future of democracy.

They are wrong.

Regardless of who wins, Nov. 5 will be neither “mission impossible” nor “mission accomplished” for American democracy. Democracy is about more than campaigns and elections. It is about a shared political community, which we are at risk of losing.

Increasingly, the dominant political strategy has involved stoking polarization and building higher walls between different groups and factions. Rather than opposing or alleviating this tendency, elected officials capitalize on our intense divisions.

Voters today are presented harshly different visions of the United States. One seeks a durable, inclusive set of institutions strong enough to address the economic, social and security challenges and opportunities we face. The other believes our government should serve the interests of specific populations, blocking us off from the world, undermining freedoms for all in the interests of a few.

The debate isn’t left versus right. It is a fault line between those committed to the basic rights and obligations ensconced in our Constitution, versus those who would use populism and demagoguery for cynical ends.

To be clear, the stakes of the upcoming presidential election are high – and some of the most urgent political debates are indeed matters of life and death. But an all-or-nothing mentality renders implementing actual solutions or engaging the opposition nearly impossible. Our politics have been flattened to the maximalist pursuit of political gain, making it difficult to find ways to overcome the enormous challenges we face, from climate change to pervasive inequities to attacks on democracy itself.

The bedrock of a thriving society is mutual respect and dedication to the well-being of all its members, which requires an ongoing process of values-based deliberation and consensus building. Fostering such a process can be done only by leaders with political capital and a mandate to build cross-partisan and cross-ideological coalitions.

Congressional leaders have historically led these efforts, though these initiatives have all but ceased.

We need leaders who champion their group’s values, beliefs and identities – and are willing to engage and potentially compromise with those who hold different views. In her book “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” author Amanda Ripley thinks of this as building a cadre of “conflict interrupters” to counter the conflict entrepreneurs: leaders who can counter polarization and extremism by reframing compromise and democratic deliberation as a values-based commitment to a working democracy.

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