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Our political culture should be less about parties, and more about ideas

Michael Schaus
Michael Schaus

One of the few things more frustrating than the partisan tribalism in modern politics is the cognitive dissonance it generates within the major political parties.

Unfortunately, such tribalism has been on the rise for decades as partisan politics have consumed an ever-larger share of American life. The politicization of pillows this last year was perhaps the most inane example of our modern era’s politicization-of-everything. When gun-control activist David Hogg announced he would launch an alternative to the pillow manufactured by the Trump-super-fan, Mike Lindell, it demonstrated the bizarre level of religiosity many Americans seem to hold for their political allegiance.

When bedding becomes a statement of one’s political affiliation, it seems fair to say partisanship has long since “jumped the shark” in modern American culture. Nonetheless, it’s likely not going to subside anytime soon, as the political class—donors, politicians, political action committees and others—have learned that such partisan intensity is a profoundly promising grift.

The result is an intense partisan feedback loop, where politicians and their allies increasingly resemble cartoonish avatars of their party in an effort to garner favor with an increasingly zealous class of supporters—supporters who then see such pandering as reason to further accelerate and inflate their own partisan posturing.

From a policy perspective, it is a worrisome and damaging trend, as partisan allegiance increasingly takes precedence over nuanced policy discussions, coherent governing principles or thoughtful compromise on the largest challenges facing the American people.

On the national level, it takes little effort to see how party politics trump the alleged principles of both major political parties. Republicans excused President Trump’s transgressions regularly, and Democrats have already started to do the same with President Biden. From both political parties the message is clear: The Party is never wrong… even when it is. As George Orwell warned, suddenly Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

Mercifully, much of this partisanship has been less intense on the local level than in Washington D.C. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a non-factor in state politics.

Former Nevada Policy Research Institute President and freshman Assemblyman Andy Matthews has introduced a bill (AB183) to bring transparency to public-sector collective bargaining—something that even Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak emphatically supported when he was a county commissioner.

The proposal would subject contract negotiations between unions and government employers to the same open meetings laws that apply to other governmental financial discussions. The concept is widely popular with average Nevadans and union members alike. According to a poll conducted by OH Predictive Insight last year, roughly three in four Nevadans agree with such a reform, including two-thirds of union members.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that government transparency is—generally speaking—a strong bipartisan area of consensus. Last legislative session, for example, Democratic Sen. David Parks partnered with Republican Sen. Ira Hansen to strengthen Nevada’s public records law. And yet, not a single Democrat has cosponsored Matthews’ proposal to introduce transparency to the government-sector collective bargaining process.

Two other Republican bills, both aimed at limiting the emergency powers of the executive branch (AB93 and SB88), are suffering a similar partisan blockade. While the partisanship in this case isn’t terribly surprising (political parties aren’t generally in the business of reducing the influence of their own members) it is nonetheless an example of how party allegiance often gets in the way of important discussions. After all, it’s hard to imagine Democrats would be so comfortable with seemingly unlimited emergency powers if a future Trump-style Republican assumes control of the executive branch.

Of course, it’s not just Republican bills being subjected to an ideologically incoherent partisan divide.

At least three major criminal justice reform bills have been put forward so far this session that should be no-brainers for a Republican Party that champions property rights and individual autonomy. Assembly Bill 116 would decriminalize minor traffic violations—a seemingly obvious “yes” vote for lawmakers who rail against overregulation and big government. Nonetheless, Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner is currently the only Republican who has signed on as a cosponsor. A bill to eliminate the practice of revoking drivers licenses from those who have unpaid court fees (AB151) has similarly garnered only one Republican cosponsor: Sen. Scott Hammond. And Attorney General Aaron Ford’s proposal to restrict no-knock raids—something that seems perfectly aligned with the values of self-described conservatives—has yet to receive any significant or emphatic praise from Republican leadership.

The tribal tendencies of partisan politics are undoubtedly a major factor in all of these instances, as the above proposals should—based on merit—garner at least a sprinkling of support from opposing political parties. In an increasingly partisan world, however, the merit of policy proposals simply doesn’t matter as much to some political players as which team authored the idea.

If we hope to limit the degree to which good ideas are killed at the altar of party loyalty, it’s not enough to merely call for “unity” or bipartisan cooperation. It will require political incentives to be changed, prioritizing loyalty to constituents and good governance over loyalty to a party.

That, however, will require a deliberate attempt by voters to check our own tribal instincts and depoliticize most of our daily lives—which seems like a pretty big lift in a political era where sleeping accoutrements have been turned into partisan statements.

Michael Schaus began his professional career in the financial sector, where he became deeply interested in economic theory and the concept of free markets. Over a decade ago, that interest led him to a career in policy and public commentary—working as a columnist, a political humorist and a radio talk show host. Today, Michael is director of communications for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and lives with his wife and daughter in Las Vegas.


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