We have our own take on politics.
Over the years, we grabbed snippets of this candidate or that position. We read this or watch that and bundle it all together to formulate our political philosophy.
But, for the most part, we all have real lives. We like to try to keep up with local, state and national politics. But we really don’t have the time or inclination to dive into the deep end and discover what makes our political system work.
But Mark D. Brewer does. As a full professor and chair of the political science department of the University of Maine, he studies politics for a living.
Last Sunday, Dan Balz, a Washington Post senior correspondent, wrote a piece based on a study from the American Political Science Association. That study says what divides us is not gender, education, income, or religion. “It is the issue of race, whether in regard to the backgrounds of the voters who make up the two parties’ coalitions or the conflicting agendas and priorities each side advocates in the pursuit of power,” he wrote. The Balz piece quoted Maine’s Prof. Brewer as writing: “Indeed if there is one thing on which deeply divided Americans agree, it is that parties have gotten us to the highly undesirable and dangerous place in which we currently reside.”
Wait a minute. Are we in a dangerous place?
“Yes, we are,” said Brewer in a phone interview last week.
“Except for the Civil War, we are in a place that is more dangerous than any time since the late 19th century,” he said.
Brewer said the political polarization in American society is higher today than in the 1960s when we saw leaders like President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy assassinated, along with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. Former Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace was seriously wounded during another assassination attempt.
As evidence of today's peril, Brewer points to the insurrection/riot/or whatever label you want to attach to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “We would like to think what happened on Jan. 6 was unthinkable. Well, it happened, and we can’t lose sight of it,” he said.
The difference, he said, is that in the 1960s, race was not divided by parties. There were liberal and conservative racial views in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Today we are in a difficult spot as the major divisions, like race and abortion, are divided between the two parties, he said.
But we make a mistake if we blame those divisions on former President Donald J. Trump. Those divisions existed before he even thought of running. He found out how to exploit them. He took advantage of the situation and changed the party, said Brewer.
Recently, some scholars on the right and the left suggested Mr. Trump might be ineligible to seek office again. They point to the third section of the 14th Amendment that bars from office any official who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the nation.
Brewer thinks this is a fascinating debate, but it is not a slam dunk in any case. He notes the former president has not been charged with insurrection.
“Maybe (barring him from office) would further strengthen Trump's base and make it more likely his supporters would support anyone other than him, even if he was not on the ballot,” said Brewer.
Political parties and candidates cling to positions they believe will help them win elections. Right now, the Republicans continue to embrace all things that are all Trump all the time.
Winning control of our government is a contest on the margins. There are only a few Congressional seats (50 to maybe 75) that are competitive. Democrats won the last two cycles. Much of their success was based on their support of women’s rights, said the professor.
If the Democrats win again in 2024, what will the GOP do? Will they rethink their reliance on Trump and his supporters? Will his supporters urge him to double down and run again? What about a criminal conviction? Will it move his supporters?
Not likely, said Brewer. “His base is his base and they are not going anywhere.”
Will another loss cause a split? Will it mean the end of the GOP? What about a third party? Will this happen? All parties have factions, but the rules are such that a third party has little chance of getting on the ballot or winning support. “The deck is stacked against the third party, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Brewer.
What about the future? The professor laughed and said the 2024 election is 13 months away and, in politics, that is a lifetime.