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How hatred became all the rage in our politics

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Are we Americans hating more now but enjoying it less? Let me count the ways:

A self-styled “militia” group is charged by the FBI with an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and make her stand “trial” for forcing residents to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many Democrats are arguing seriously with one another and with former Vice President Joe Biden as to whether the Supreme Court should be expanded to dodge the decisions of an expected conservative majority.

And President Donald Trump, recovering from his own bout with the coronavirus, unleashed a 24-hour Twitter storm last week in which he demanded to know, in all caps, why Biden, former President Barack Obama and “CROOKED HILLARY” Clinton have not yet been arrested for a “coup” that he apparently thinks is too awful to require actual evidence.

Yes, I know we Americans have had our times of severe national divisions. We had a Civil War. And I remember the 1960s.

But today’s partisan divide is putting a strain on our national fabric like the first — and perhaps only — Trump-Biden debate-turned-debacle put a strain on our national eardrums.

 

How, we need to ask ourselves, did we get here? How did haters become all the rage in politics? Can we turn down the heat?

“Negative partisanship” is what political scientists call support for a party that is based not so much on loyalty to that party as on how much we can’t stand the other party. Of course, there always has been some of this contentiousness in politics. But the divide has grown so much in recent years that, as Charlie Cook at the Cook Political Report wrote last year, “The old saying that ‘I vote the person not the party,’ once a commonplace belief, is now just a cliche.”

You can blame, as many do, an excess of power in the presidency, in Senate rules or in strong judicial review.

Forty years ago, when asked to rate how “favorable and warm” their opinion of each party was, the average Democrat and Republican said they felt OK-ish about the opposite party. But for four decades now, partisans have increasingly turned against each other in an escalating cycle of dislike and distrust — views of the other party are currently at an all-time low.

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(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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