Polarization is not the problem.

“Demanding governors overturn results. Coercing state election officials. Insisting state legislators appoint new electors. Trump lost, and these attacks will not succeed. But if you believe in democracy, silence is complicity.”

In response to Trump and the GOP’s continual efforts to overturn a legitimate, free and fair election, and to instill distrust in our democratic system through conspiracy theories, debunked nonsense and baseless legal challenges (as of this writing, Trump’s legal team is 1 for 54 in losing lawsuits); here is my take.

The fact that most GOP leaders don’t condemn any of this means that we don’t have a polarization problem, we have a democracy problem. I study polarization and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the wrong problem to address. The two parties are not equally extreme.

The fact that Democrats and Republicans hate each other (affective polarization) is bad – but worse is that Republican leaders and voters are actively undermining democracy on a regular basis, and Democrats are trying to defend it.

By focusing on polarization, we’re avoiding the thing directly in front of us: the Republican Party is the problem. They cannot win a fair contest, and don’t need to try, because Republican voters’ votes count so much more than Democratic voters’ votes.

17% of the electorate can elect a majority of the Senate. Republicans can win a majority of House seats with a minority of American votes. All of these imbalances benefit rural places – which are reliably Republican. Republican voters are super-voters.

They are also being riled up by resentment about the limited progress that has been made in civil rights – threatened by the incomplete status gains of Black Americans and of women. Conservative policies are not popular – they must campaign on identity threats.

Trump’s “PC” rhetoric was about restoring the traditional social hierarchy, that privileges white men and dominates everyone else. The only way to maintain this social hierarchy is to move away from democracy toward minority (white) ethnic rule.

This isn’t accusing all Republicans of being racist. It’s that most of them approve of a racist system and feel personally affronted at the idea of change – it represents a threat to their relative status in American society.

We don’t need to depolarize American politics. We need to democratize it.

More to come soon, as this is an ongoing research and writing project.

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