The First Victim of Polarization is Accountability; next is Democracy

By Will Caraccio 

On Tuesday night, Democrats across the United States watched fixedly as the Presidential Election unfolded, a familiar look of bafflement and horror gradually setting over their faces: they had expected a Blue Wave, but instead were witnessing a repeat of the 2016 election. As the night came to a close, Trump had sizable leads in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, with House and Gubernatorial offices also leaning Republican. This was not what was supposed to happen–not even close. 

For months leading up to the election, Democrats throughout the country exuded utmost confidence; bolstered by national and state polls, all of which projected sizable leads for Biden in important areas, liberals embraced the prospect of a Democratic blowout in both the White House and Congress. And yet, while Biden did end up winning the presidency, with a large popular vote advantage, the election was nail-bitingly close–far from a blue blow-out. As key states turned blue, gradually falling into place for the Biden campaign, many Democrats responded with disillusionment rather than excitement, disbelief rather than celebration. For many liberals, the importance of this election extended far beyond who became the Chief Executive: it was, in their eyes, a final judgement on the nation’s character, a last chance for the growing partisan division to be mended. On election night, with both candidates gathering over 70 million votes, it became clear that party polarization had in fact become more pronounced. 

To me, one thing has become exorbitantly clear: amidst this constant level of divisive polarization, the United States has developed a politics that is devoid of accountability. Party leaders no longer have to act with any semblance of decency or decorum–everything they do will instantly be rationalized and compartmentalized by a constituency more interested in doggedly preserving their own entrenched values than hearing the truth. A politician’s greatest shield has become his party; his only moral code, his party’s dogma. While Democrats were convinced that Donald Trump’s glaring incompetence and disregard for democracy would be enough to precipitate a decisive blue election, they failed to comprehend a prevailing truth that has recently come to define American politics: citizens vote with trust rather than reason. And, in our two-party system, trust has become synonymous with party affiliation. 

While this election has demonstrated how deeply divided we are, its aftermath has demonstrated how this division poses an existential threat to our democracy. The stubborn, unsurenderring trust of this nation’s electorate–a blind trust that will persist even after an election has been lost–will threaten to destroy the democratic tenets our nation was founded on.