Bring back the value of the individual voice in politics

Cartoon by Sarah Carraher
Cartoon by Sarah Carraher

I learned a new word recently: dehisce, meaning to split along a natural line or weakness. The term usually refers to the way in which seedpods are discharged from plants at the time of maturity, allowing their genes to be disseminated in the environment and eventually grow anew.

Interesting, I thought, how this process of separation is innately regenerative. After all, “splitting” usually evokes feelings of reduction or defeat: the end of a relationship, the breakdown of a physical object.

We are wired to view splitting of all sorts as unfortunate, a departure from the desired state of unity. Politically speaking, this is a common sentiment: the partisan divide is widening, and we are worse off because of it. Polarization has rendered compromise a thing of the past. Divergence halts progress.

But the great political split we are witnessing is not inherently problematic. The problem lies in the product of the split. Congress no longer consists of hundreds of individual actors, but two ideological blocs, each composed of legislators who are largely unwilling to voice opinions contrary to those of their party.

When the Congressional Budget Office predicted that more than 20 million Americans would lose their health insurance under an earlier form of the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill – a staggering statistic that should have nullified the piece of legislation – only four out of the 52 Republican senators said they would vote against it. What’s worse is that 20 Republican senators either refused to speak publicly about the bill or offered a noncommittal statement.

When the voice of the individual is diminished to serve the will of the many, opportunities for constructive debate and negotiation are stifled, and superior ideas never reach fruition. It is not ideological disagreement but impenetrable unity exhibited by both Democrats and Republicans that truly divides us.

In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison famously deliberates the topic of faction, stating that a republic’s representatives must be “raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.”

This statement is predicated on the assumption that every representative is a relational actor, capable of harboring unique perspectives as well as the ability to work with others. This has not been the case. We have reduced ourselves to two warring cabals, equally disinclined to split apart and explore new avenues of growth.

The result is the current state of American politics: a culture deadened by inflexibility and constant conflict. And its reach extends beyond Washington. One’s political leanings can instantly destabilize a pre-existing relationship. The words “conservative” and “liberal” are weighed down by so many connotations that they negate self-efficacy.

Let us resist attachment to the comfortable and familiar. Let us find solace in reconstructing relationships. Let us dehisce and grow again, with stability and respect at the roots.

Mackenzie Karbon is a junior majoring in jazz performance. Here’s That Rainy Day runs the fourth Tuesday of each month.