Transpartisanship: An Alternative to Political Dysfunction | Sojourners

Transpartisanship: An Alternative to Political Dysfunction

Mykhaylo Palinchak /
Mykhaylo Palinchak /

The phenomenon of “creeping normality” allows for significant changes to be deemed acceptable when they occur gradually over time, in relatively unnoticed increments, rather than single steps or dramatic and noticeable instances. The “boiling frog” metaphor, which illustrates the familiar account of an unassuming amphibian that is slowly and successfully cooked to death, reveals not only how such instances can occur, but also how a calculated and protracted alteration (produced by those with power to turn up the heat) can possess disastrous results if not noticed and properly countered (by those left in the water). We need not look far for modern-day examples.

Extreme partisanship has crept into our political normality. As revealed last year by the Pew Research Center, our civic temperature is methodically rising, perhaps beyond the boiling point. The study states:

“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. [As a result], the center has gotten smaller: 39% of Americans currently take a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions, down from 49% in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004.”

In addition to the steady and significant growth in gross ideological polarization, the research also reveals a growing disdain for those with opposing political views. The findings assert:

“Partisan animosity has increased substantially … In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.’”

It appears that far too many citizens have learned to accept such political polarization – and the personal loathing that accompanies it – as our creeping norm. And the most accepted tactics by which some wish to counter such dysfunction – known as “bipartisanship” and “nonpartisanship” – have also proven to be mostly ineffective, thus leaving those in the center (both literally and politically) both distant and disengaged. Overall, the temperature of our hostile partisanship continues to increase, and thus it increasingly appears that bipartisanship and nonpartisanship have proven to be unsuccessful community coolants.

An emerging field of thought, known as “transpartisanship,” has recently materialized to provide a meaningful alternative. On the one hand, bipartisanship limits the dialogue process to two (increasingly volatile) political viewpoints, striving (increasingly unsuccessfully) for a compromise solution. Nonpartisanship, on the other hand, tends to deny and/or avoid the existence of any (increasingly differing) viewpoints in exchange for (increasingly rare) cooperation. With all things considered, both the bipartisan and nonpartisan approaches too often discount the multiplicity of viewpoints that truly exist across and within the social and political spectrum, which often results in incomplete and therefore failed political processes.

At a time in which ideological positions continue to move people toward either extremism or relativism, transpartisanship recognizes the continued existence, validity, and connectedness of many – even countless – points of view. In doing so, transpartisanship advocates a constructive and pluralistic dialogue aimed at forming creative, integrated, and therefore, breakthrough solutions that meet the unique needs of our current day and age. Transpartisanship does not seek a “melting-pot” society that attempts to blur the lines of diversity and difference, nor does it push people into separate “silos” that avoid our divergences altogether. But rather, transpartisanship promotes a “salad bowl” approach in which people that orient around public life differently may retain their personal values while also striving for common ground alongside others with whom they may disagree. In sum, transpartisanship recognizes that most people possess independent political identities that cannot be fully contained by our two primary political parties, thus contrary to what appears to be the creeping norm, the far majority of citizens simply do not believe that grandiose stalemates and dangerous government gridlocks are suitable political solutions.

We have no idea what our political boiling point actually is, thus our concern should be significant, for while we may be far from a simmer, it is also possible that we are already unknowingly boiling to death. Transpartisanship is a way forward, for such a method seeks to go through and beyond the norms of partisanship, rather than employing our repeated unsuccessful attempts to go around it or even over it. As articulated by the Transpartisan Center and others, through applying methods of facilitation, dialogue, deliberation, and conflict resolution, transpartisanship shows that it is indeed possible to achieve the ideals of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy – freedom, equality, and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic – order, responsibility, and security. In other words, transpartisanship transcends, includes, and connects preexisting political ideologies, and in doing so, embraces the idea that all systems of belief can be approached with value and curiosity (rather than disdain and animosity), and that successful outcomes can best be reached through inclusive, genuine, and respectful cooperation.

One can argue that transpartisanship honors both the “we” and “people” in “We the People,” and in doing so, shapes a more suitable course for the pursuit of life in its fullness. We can only hope that such a respectful and effective political pathway can be our new norm.

Brian E. Konkol serves as Chaplain of the College at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

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