Slavery and Congressional Gridlock

There is a direct link between slavery and congressional gridlock. Looking back at the arc of American history, its original sin has shaped its curve. Embedded in the constitution and eventually splitting the country apart in a bloody war, slavery gave way to institutionalized and social and cultural racism. And racism became more exclusive to one party.

Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Voting Rights initiatives moved conservatives out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. Before this, as noted in the Economist article, conservatives and liberals has existed in both parties and had allowed members to find common ground more easily, reducing gridlock. This partisanship has been a major factor in increasing polarization and gridlock in Congress.

Race is still a great dividing factor in America and talking about race is difficult, especially for white people, who can become defensive very quickly when discussing white privilege or institutional racism. So how can we heal this divide, and therefore remove a host of divisive social issues from party politics?

Without certain social divisions people could once again move among parties to find common ground on individual policy issues. Support Black Lives Matter and reducing the corporate tax rate? Vote for Republicans. Want to end affirmative action but support a single-payer option for health care? Vote for Democrats. If this were the case so many regular problems tied to the actual smooth running of the nation, which is the chief victim of polarized gridlock, could and would be addressed.

The salient fact in engaging in this sort of thought experiment is to note how many divisive issues surround race and America’s attempts to reconcile with its (more) racist past. Affirmative action, our view of police and policing, welfare and tax redistribution, the war on drugs. Race has gotten in the way of making policy decisions solely on the facts, and on Utilitarian principles of governing for the greatest good for the greatest number. The practice of dividing people on a granular level, especially with the rise of big data and analysis, has the effect of dividing people even further into a Republican/Conservative camp and a Democratic/Liberal camp where policy and social and cultural views are all linked, where they do not necessarily need to be. It is a dangerous path that risks dividing people from one another where even if they share some similar, broad principles, they are utterly separated.

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