Friday, February 5, 2016

Transpartisanship and the Conversion of Political Conflict (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published by the Huffington Post on February 5, 2016, and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-e-konkol/transpartisanship-and-the_b_9163654.html

The current presidential campaign exposes extreme partisanship as our political normality. Reminiscent of the classic “boiling frog” metaphor, what once seemed deplorable has gradually (and gravely) become our standard practice. As revealed by the Pew Research Center (“Political Polarization in the American Public: How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life”), our civic temperature is methodically rising, perhaps beyond the boiling point, and the consequences are both serious and several. The study states:

“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. [As a result], the center has gotten smaller: 39% of Americans currently take a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions, down from 49% in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004.”

In addition to the steady and significant growth in gross ideological polarization, the research also reveals a growing and alarming disdain for those with opposing political views. The findings assert:

“Partisan animosity has increased substantially…  In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being’.”

As indicated by research (and frequently revealed in practice), it appears that far too many citizens have learned to accept such political polarization – and the personal loathing that accompanies it – as our destructive domestic custom. Our most accepted tactics to counter such dysfunction – known as “bipartisanship” and “non-partisanship” – have also proven to be mostly ineffective, thus leaving those in the center (both literally and politically) both distant and disengaged. The temperature of our hostile conflict continues to increase, and thus it increasingly appears that bipartisanship and non-partisanship have proven to be unsuccessful community coolants.

An emerging field of thought, known as “transpartisanship”, has recently materialized to provide a meaningful alternative to bipartisanship and nonpartisanship. On the one hand, bipartisanship limits the dialogue process to two (increasingly volatile) political viewpoints, striving (increasingly unsuccessfully) for a compromise solution. Nonpartisanship, on the other hand, tends to deny and/or avoid the existence of any (increasingly differing) viewpoints in exchange for (increasingly rare) cooperation. With all things considered, both the bipartisan and nonpartisan approaches too often discount the multiplicity of viewpoints that truly exist across and within the social and political spectrum, which often results in incomplete and therefore failed political processes. We need not look far for modern day examples. 

At a time in which ideological positions continue to move people toward either extremism or relativism, transpartisanship recognizes the continued existence, validity and connectedness of many – even countless – points of view. In doing so, transpartisanship advocates a constructive and pluralistic dialogue aimed at forming creative, integrated, and therefore, breakthrough solutions that meet the unique needs of our current day and age. Transpartisanship does not seek a “melting-pot” society that attempts to blur the lines of diversity and difference, nor does it push people into separate “silos” that avoid our divergences altogether. In what can be described as indicative of the North American ethos, transpartisanship promotes a “salad bowl” approach in which people that orient around public life differently may retain their personal values while also serving the common ground alongside others with whom they may strongly disagree. In doing so, transpartisanship recognizes that most people possess emerging political identities that cannot be fully contained by our two primary political parties, thus contrary to what appears to be the dominant model, the far majority of citizens simply do not believe that grandiose scapegoating and dangerous government gridlocks are suitable political solutions. 

We have no idea what our political boiling point actually is, thus our concern should be significant, for while we may be far from a simmer, it is also possible that we are already unknowingly boiling to death. Transpartisanship is a means by which we may convert our political conflict, for such a method seeks to go through and beyond the poisonous patterns of partisanship, rather than employing our repeated unsuccessful attempts to go around or over it. By applying methods of facilitation, dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution, transpartisanship shows that it is indeed possible to achieve the ideals of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy – freedom, equality and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic – order, responsibility and security. Transpartisanship transcends, includes, and connects pre-existing and evolving political ideologies, and in doing so, embraces the idea that all systems of belief can be approached with value and curiosity (rather than disdain and animosity), and that successful outcomes can best be reached through inclusive, genuine and respectful cooperation.

Transpartisanship honors both the “we” and “people” in “We the People”, and in doing so, shapes a more suitable course for the pursuit of life in its fullness. This respectful and effective political pathway can emerge as our new norm.