Political Division as a Threat to Liberal Democracies

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Group Conflict Part 2


By Dillon Rajakarier | United Kingdom


In part one, we explored the damaging effects of Group Conflict and Group Polarisation on discourse. But what are the consequences when these phenomena are abused in politics?

Political malfeasance is leading to globally high levels of societal polarisation and division, as well as rising autocratisation. There is a clear decline of democratic attributes and safeguards in India and the USA. Politicians are corroding two of these attributes in particular.

Visual source: here, page 24.


The first is the quality of public political discourse. Politicians are splitting nations and debates by emphasising divisive issues, pre-existing prejudices, and political rhetoric that channels deep grievances.


The resulting group biases engender greater party loyalty and prejudice against other parties, groups and sections of the media (fake news, anyone?). For instance, Indian Prime Minister Modi exploited anti-Muslim prejudice through discriminatory legislation for increased electoral support.

President Trump focuses on divisive issues to rally his base. Consequently, we arrive at a people who are more divided and misinformed, voters who are less able to hold their politicians accountable. A key check of the government deteriorated.


If it outrages, it leads… we are outraged when members of other groups threaten our group and violate our values. As such, polarized media doesn’t emphasize commonalities, it weaponizes differences; it doesn’t focus on the best of the other side, it threatens you with the worst”.The book ‘Why We’re Polarized’ explains how the media, especially in the United States, plays off this political division for increased viewership

The second impaired safeguard is the ability of governments themselves to hold their leadership to account. In some countries, political groups are now characterised as “immoral or corrupt” rather than incorrect. Hence perception of them in power becomes “a threat to the nation or…way of life” rather than just poor policies. Thus the “incumbent’s followers tolerate more illiberal and increasingly authoritarian behaviour to stay in power.” America is an apt illustration of the second impaired safeguard:


‘Trump characterises Democrats with his “Corrupt Joe Biden”, “High Crime Nancy Pelosi” remarks.

Republicans tolerate and defend Trump’s legally questionable actions such as his “immigration bans… and potential violations of the Emoluments Clause.

There is also weakened congressional oversight of the President as illustrated by the Ukraine


Impeachment trial; The Republican-dominated Senate favoured politics over proper inquiry and voted against calling witnesses or admitting new evidence.

With the accountability of leadership stripped by new political norms, governments are less able to prevent dictatorial behaviour that runs roughshod over their nation’s rights and values.

Political polarisation threatens freedoms we take for granted. Unless we guard against manipulation and hold exploiters accountable, these civil rights may increasingly be a thing of the past.

 

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