American democracy is in a partisan death spiral. Here's how we can save it.

·4 min read

I am persuaded that love is the only practical strategy for saving our democracy.

We are caught in a partisan death spiral. As soon as one party gains power, the other party’s top priority becomes ensuring its defeat. Our constitutional checks and balances make this easy. And when, inevitably, the party in power fails to deliver, the pendulum swings back to divided government or to the other party’s control. The cycle repeats and repeats and repeats.

Meanwhile, our problems keep getting worse, our divisions deepen and our fears grow. Reform initiatives proliferate, but our partisan gridlock blocks most of them. More fundamentally, they do not go deep enough to fix what is truly broken. Stay on this course and our system fails.

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This is where love comes in. The unsurprising truth turns out to be that it takes better people to build a better world. That means us.

To be clear, love in its highest form is a moral perfection forever beyond our reach.

But we can become more loving – more loving enough to make a profound difference at every level of our lives. We all know ordinary people who do this every day.

Bringing love into our common life begins with affirming the full humanity and the sacred dignity of all our fellow Americans. It means having the humility to see how much we need to learn from those whose experience of America has been different from our own. And, most of all, it means making a wholehearted commitment to work – to really work – for the good of all.

These commitments have the power to ennoble our sense of ourselves, our fellow citizens and the country we can build together. If enough of us embrace them, they have the power to arrest and reverse the breakdown of our democracy.

For those of us who share this view, the urgent goal must be to build a bridging force of tens of millions of Americans animated by love and united at a level deeper than politics by a shared commitment to the dignity of every person and to building a society that works for all.

In-depth studies of Americans’ values and political views like the new Public Agenda/USA Today Hidden Common Ground survey show that millions of Americans are primed to embrace this bridging vision.

Ideologues drive division

These studies show that the intense polarizing energy that is driving our culture of fear is coming largely from a small percentage of intensely ideological leaders and activists at each end of the political spectrum.

These studies also show that the overwhelming majority of Americans are significantly less ideological and want to find common ground.

Until now, this great majority has had no hopeful vision, strategy and leadership around which to rally. But this is changing. Pioneering “bridgers” are already hard at work at the local and national levels building the movement infrastructure to lift up a powerful bridging vision, put forward a practical and compelling bridging strategy, and call forth the leaders and resources to empower an intensive national mobilization effort.

Each of us will have our own important role to play. For some of us it will be building friendships across difference. For others it will be encouraging more openness, humility and compassion within our own tribe. For still others it will be the hard work of finding common ground on hard issues.

'Bridgers' can transform political parties

In politics, when we bridgers begin to show up in larger and larger numbers to vote at party caucuses and primaries, we will inspire a new generation of candidates who share our bridging values, and more and more will win.

Responding to this new political reality, our political parties will stop moving further to the extremes and, instead, take up the vital work of finding practical, common ground strategies to address our big challenges.

When this happens, our principled policy differences will begin to drive a virtuous competition leading us toward that mix of liberal and conservative policies that most effectively support human flourishing and the flourishing of the natural world.

All of this could really happen, but only if enough of us commit to love as the guiding principle and animating force for our life together.

America’s future is in our hands, but, much more, it is in our hearts.

Bob Boisture is president of the Fetzer Institute.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to save American democracy from its partisan death spiral

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