America is starting to forget the meaning of 'bipartisanship'

US party politics is seeing civility displaced by fear

Former U.S. President Donald Trump shields his eyes while speaking about the media at the North Carolina GOP convention dinner in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S. June 5, 2021.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
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Speaking at a Memorial Day observance last week, US President Joe Biden noted rather ominously, "our democracy is in peril". Politics, if we can even call it that, is so distorted and hyper-partisan that the shared values, comity and compromise needed for democracy to function have become endangered concepts.

One clear indicator of this sorry state of affairs is the extent to which Republicans have embraced former president Donald Trump's claim that the 2020 vote was marred by fraud. A recent poll shows that 70 per cent of Republican voters still believe that Mr Trump's victory was "stolen", and as a result do not accept Mr Biden as the legitimate president.

Instead of pushing back on this dangerous idea, Republican leaders are insisting that their elected officials accept this new official party dogma and act accordingly. Exhibit A in this phenomenon was the Senate Republican leadership's refusal to advance a bill in the House of Representatives that would have created a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 violent takeover of the Capitol Building, in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election. In doing so, it appears that the Republican Party has chosen to ignore the wakeup call of the insurrection, choosing instead to press the snooze button and go back to sleep.

A supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump wears a QAnon shirt while holding a sign stating he won the 2020 election, outside the North Carolina GOP convention in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S. June 5, 2021.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Equally disturbing has been Republican behaviour on the national and state level.

Immediately following the January 6 certification vote and the January 13 vote to convict Mr Trump of having incited the violence that occurred at the Capitol, several of the party's state committees voted to censure those Republicans who voted either to ratify the election's outcome or to support the charge of incitement against Mr Trump.

The Republican congressional caucus ousted Congresswoman Liz Cheney from her leadership role in the House because she continued to reject forcefully the former president's claim. Ms Cheney has also been rebuked by her state party. Her re-election prospects are now in doubt.

Ms Cheney is being punished because she has refused to accept Mr Trump's claim, maintaining that those who continue to advocate what she calls the "big lie" only perpetuate the very issue that incited the January insurrection and takeover of the Capitol.

Acceptance of the "big lie" is also on display in those states where Republicans control both the governorship and the legislature. In the name of "election integrity", they are passing laws that will make voting more difficult for targeted groups of poor, elderly and minority voters. Such measures have already passed in 14 states and are in process in at least 18 more. A deeply troubling feature of some of these bills is a provision allowing the state legislature to overturn the decision of state election officials to certify election results. If permitted to stand, this provision could lead to chaos and undermine the integrity of future elections on the federal and state levels.

Putting an exclamation point on hyper-partisanship, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently made the frank admission that he is 100 per cent committed to blocking Mr Biden's agenda, thus making Republican calls for bipartisanship more of a tactic and a taunt than an honest appeal for constructive negotiations.

This crisis has been brewing for at least three decades. It began in 1995, when Republican lawmakers Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay assumed leadership in the Congress, bringing "slash and burn" politics to Washington. Throughout the remainder of former president Bill Clinton's term in office and into the two George W Bush terms thereafter, Democrats continued to play by the old rules, supporting compromise with the GOP on what were, in my opinion, often regressive pieces of legislation on a host of issues from welfare reform and border security, to tax cuts and education reform.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 25: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined by fellow Republican leadership, speaks to reporters following the weekly Republican policy luncheons on Capitol Hill on May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Republicans spoke on their own infrastructure plan and are expected to introduce their counteroffer to President Biden's plan later this week.   Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP
The crisis in American democracy has been brewing for at least three decades

Republicans were loath to operate in the same way during former president Barack Obama's time in office, with only one or two of their members breaking ranks to support compromise bills. Instead, the GOP not only refused to co-operate with Mr Obama, but also launched the Tea Party and encouraged the Birther Movement that denied Mr Obama was a legitimate president. Fuelled by right-wing talk radio and television, the poison of partisanship paved the way for Mr Trump's election.

While many conservative Republicans opposed Mr Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Mr Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6 and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership's continued cowering in the face of what is now called "Trump's base", which has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity.

While the majority of the Republican Party is busy cannibalising itself in order to appeal to the very base it created, the lack of comity and civility that this has generated has made it impossible to reach compromise. With the Senate deadlocked at 50-50, it has become increasingly difficult to move the nation's agenda forward.

Dr James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute and a columnist for The National