We hoped for Obama but all we got was Mitch McConnel

The story of modern politics

There is truly nothing as powerful than partisanship in today’s global political landscape. The United States is an easy anecdote because it has become an actual artform for some politicians (Looking at you, Mitch McConnel), but it has come to dominate the larger global political landscape as politicians see it as an easy way to galvanize political support and push an idealized, though heavily partisan, agenda. Trust or a lack thereof is the foundation of a system of governance where we paradoxically trust each other enough to participate in governance but not enough to actually consider the other side, whatever that might mean any legitimacy. Ryan Carlin and Gregory Love explore this paradox in their work and show that partisanship, or more the perception of our own and other’s partisanship, more than any other social cleavage, shape our worldview.

The research itself is incredibly pertinent to our understanding of most democracies current divided state. Partisanship, though actively practiced, is bemoaned as a destructive force inhibiting governments to do the only thing they need to do: Govern. Partisanship has eroded the political sphere so effectively because it has changed the way that we as individuals trust who we see to be our opponents. Trust is the foundation for interpersonal interaction and it is actively eroded in a competitive political environment where one party is in an inescapable struggle against the other(s). Their research, though technical in its description of its experimental design shows deliberate attempts to bring their findings into the larger social conversation by explaining the universality of their findings, as they conducted their experiment in multiple countries, and being careful to distill their technical jargon, only useful to a more academic political discourse community, so that a wider audience can understand their research. Their work, like their message, is intended to have a larger audience since it seems partisanship is so universally shaping.

Their research reminds me of the earlier Werron reading, where his new definition or conception of competition is approval from a third party for recognition, which is perceived as a scarce resource. This ties very closely to the goal of partisanship presented in this research. Partisanship is intended to increase interpersonal trust between individuals of the same leaning so that a party, or a member of a party, can better compete for predominance and the votes of undecided individuals. Support is viewed to be a finite resource and the ability of a candidate to win approval and therefore advance a partisan cause is the highest priority. Much in line with the general message and impact of the paper, competition for this kind of recognition is incredibly pertinent to the times and relatable to a range of audiences.

Ultimately, the question left to the reader, though not explicitly stated, is how we as a society overcome partisan lines to find a common objective incite progress? Blaise Appolinary underlines how partisanship leads to such intense controversy and disagreement as a result of partisanship that cooperation, the very thing that strong interpersonal trust between members of the same group is supposed to foster, is pushed out of the realm of possibility. Can governments, parties or individuals find a point of commonality to incite action from a divided group? The authors in this piece discussed national events like the killing of Osama bin Laden that incited the feeling of unity and commonality, but those moments were fleeting. Personally, coming from a family background (American to boot) where intense political partisanship colors every relationship, I find that it is not impossible to find common goals that are appealing to both sides of the aisle. Whether that be a better future for children, safer communities, or more jobs, I honestly do believe that focusing rhetoric on that common goal would be more conducive to co-operative than getting caught in the logistics of how we are going to get there. The common goal becomes the focus and framing it that way in public discourse is a perpetual reminder that all sides are working towards the same objective. (Of course, this is largely based on a version of societies and issues where most individuals gravitate towards the center in personal views and not to each extreme).

Image credit: http://politicalmemes.com/tag/mitch-mcconnell-meme/


  1. Hi Sophia, I really like how you define partisanship here: “Partisanship is intended to increase interpersonal trust between individuals of the same leaning so that a party, or a member of a party, can better compete for predominance and the votes of undecided individuals. ” As we discussed in class, political parties are mainly formed to represent interests of various social groups. But in democratic and capitalist countries like United State and Canada, the characteristics of monopoly gradually emerge in the political system. In his article “Competition is Dying, and Taking Capitalism With It”, Tepper’ s comment about monopoly or oligopoly echos this point of view: ” Free to choose sounds great. Yet Americans are not free to choose.” The political system resembles the economic system in a way that usually just two political parties dominate the government. As you have mentioned, ” support is a finite resource”. A party must use some mechanisms to ensure a majority position. One of such mechanisms is partisanship which make sure party members vote along the party line. In turn, party members can gain support from the party in their political bids. Any outliers like Independent politicians are not likely to survive a presidential bid without support from one of the major parties. In the American history, there’s only one president elected as an independent who is George Washington. I think President Donald Trump clearly saw the benefit of partisanship and decided to run as a republican candidate instead of an independent (he was an independent) in 2016. Interestingly, it’s partisanship ensure the cooperation within a party but also guarantee the competition between parties due to their different agendas.


  2. Hi Fiona,

    Quick question, what do you mean “In the American history, there’s only one president elected as an independent who is George Washington”. Politics in America has been nearly from conception, a partisan system with two parties. Goerge Washington was elected by fellow founding fathers, and the last to be elected before the formation of two parites.
    I would also dispute the fact that American’s have no choice. Strinctly speaking, there are primaries and elections to exercise and realize this choice. There are multiple issues with the American election systems, but connecting the monopolisitc nature of capitalism and American politics is a weak link. Declairing the American politics dead because of modern capitalism ignores the historical relevance of the two party system in the United States.


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