A more healthy coverage is feasible

President Biden and Andrew Cuomo. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock, Library of Congress

The strange thing about political extremism is that at some point it unfolds according to its own logic.

If you ask the most radical ideologues and analysts on the right why they have chosen entertaining or concocted arguments to justify an American Caesar or Salazar, they will tell you that the other side is already practicing authoritarianism and is actively trying to unite the country to impose gentle totalitarianism. We’re just trying to defend ourselves, they’ll say. In such circumstances, it would be foolish not to use all available tactics, such as tying your hands in the middle of a life and death battle with a mortal enemy.

In other words, the other side made me do it.

And of course it’s the same with this other side. The right is a massive threat to American democracy, progressives say, so it is long time to fight dirty and use all possible means to manipulate the system for the benefit of the left, as the only possible defense against those who run the system already manipulate it to improve the power of authoritarian conservatives.

Call it the seduction of political ruthlessness, using self-defense as the rationale for each intensifying round of offensive action against political opponents.

But is that our inevitable fate? Are we doomed to endlessly repeated cycles of mutual provocation and escalation, each driven by the growing conviction that any political victory is too dangerous for the other side to accept?

Two current political developments remind us that it doesn’t have to be that way – that another, healthier form of democratic politics is still possible now.

The first of these developments defies a dynamic that has prevailed among the Trumpified Republicans in recent years. They are anxious to find and use political advantages at all times, and in doing so have come across a completely situational view of principles, that is, they treat principles as binding only for their opponents.

The story goes on

So when the Democrats get caught up in a scandal in which a prominent member of their party is credibly accused of moral inappropriateness or corruption, Republicans respond to any sign of hesitation with charges of hypocrisy and bad faith. However, when a Republican is accused of moral inappropriateness or corruption, his own response is far more latitudinous. Why? Attacking a member of one’s own political tribe, regardless of their alleged transgression, would be an expression of weakness. So we ended up with many Republicans inciting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign over a single, flimsy sexual assault allegation when the Republican president was accused of far worse behavior (and caught on tape).

In the land of political extremism, double standards are the coin of the empire.

Interestingly, however, this is an area where the two parties do not reflect. We have seen this over and over over the past several years, from the quick and widespread calls for Al Franken to resign his Senate seat in Minnesota after he was accused of sexual harassment, to the Democratic response this week to the devastating results of one Investigation in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Calls for Cuomo’s resignation began almost immediately after the announcement that the governor had sexually molested 11 women and created a “hostile” work environment for women in general. The following day, many high-ranking Democrats, including President Biden and the Democratic majority in the New York State Assembly, called for his resignation.

Cuomo’s fate remains uncertain at the moment, but the moral character of the Democratic Party is not. Its senior officials have proven that the party will take a stand when it harms one of its most prominent members (and not just when the gesture can be used as a club against the others). This points to a real and important difference between the two parties – and also serves as a healing reminder of what a less polarized form of politics looks and feels like in action.

We have also seen signs of a better path in the bipartisan infrastructure deal that Biden has promoted and forged moderate members of both parties in the Senate over the past few months. We can debate whether the mix of politics and spending in the 2,700-page bill (the passage of which remains uncertain) is too much, too little, or just right for the country. But the mere fact that such a bill was drafted at all is a hopeful sign that the extremist logic that is so often prevalent today can at least sometimes be short-circuited.

This logic insists that politics is all or nothing about the victory or defeat of the partisans. If one side wins, the other loses. If one side prevails, the other suffers, both in terms of partisan advantages and political preferences. There is no overlap, no common ground or a fictitious common good that can be negotiated and partially achieved through negotiations or compromises. If the other party gets through in anything, we are defeated. Like a civil war waged by other means, politics is zero sums, with skirmishes shifting back and forth on an ideological map of the battlefield. One side pushing forward means the other is retreating and losing important territory that must be regained the next time the armies clash.

Much of what is happening in our politics these days can be described in this way. But that wasn’t the case with the infrastructure deal, which is a very hopeful sign. The center-left White House started with a proposal, and then a sizeable bloc of moderate Democrats and Republicans went to work, agreeing what they could and discarding the rest to move into what was likely a much larger and more progressive bill the Democrats will try to go through the reconciliation process with a straight vote on the party line. What remains is nearly $ 1 trillion in cash for a long list of “hard” infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, rail, etc.) and investments in clean energy and climate change-related environmental projects.

The left is not happy, and neither is the right. But Congress and the White House did exactly what they were supposed to do, which was to govern the country fairly and responsibly. That means they have reached a rough compromise by giving both sides some of what they want and what they can live with.

That won’t work for everything. But as long as it is temporarily successful, the seemingly unstoppable logic of political extremism can be kept in check and sometimes even put on the defensive.

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