Skip to main content

Are we doomed to polarization?

07/23/2014 06:22PM, Published by Lev, Categories: In Print, Opinion



By Lee H. Hamilton

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. This is, as the Pew Research Center put it recently, “a defining feature of politics today.” In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this.

Yet Congress and the political world around it reflect the rest of the country more than we’d like to believe. Our nation is divided ideologically. It’s also segregated politically, with many Americans preferring to associate with and live near people who share their views; gerrymandered districts and closed primaries intensify the effect. Our media is more partisan than it used to be. Interest groups — many of them funded by ordinary Americans who want their voices magnified — are more engaged than they were a generation ago. And though we deplore negative politics, we respond to it and even encourage our favorite partisans to engage in it.

Anyone who becomes President today does so with nearly half the country opposed to him the day he takes office. Moreover, we face a long list of issues where decisive action may be impossible: abortion, gun control, climate change, a host of budgetary and economic problems, the death penalty, tax reform, immigration, drug laws. These issues don’t just divide Congress; they divide the nation, with no clear path forward.

Our admired political system, in other words, is not working well. In Pew’s survey, the extremes make up just over a third of the American public, but because they’re disproportionately active they drive our politics. The larger, more diverse center can’t agree on a direction for the country, but its members are united by their distaste for the tone of politics and the unwillingness of politicians to compromise and break the stalemate. We are not getting the politics we want.

So how do we resolve our dilemma?

There are many procedural steps that can ease the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Among them, the House and Senate could schedule themselves so that they’re in session at the same time. Congressional leaders and the President ought to meet at least once a month. Congress needs to work the same five-day week that the rest of us do, and reduce its centralized leadership by empowering committees. Open primaries would help moderate the nation’s politics, as would bipartisan redistricting commissions capable of doing away with gerrymandered districts. Increasing voter participation and improving the integrity of our elections would also help. Limiting the Senate filibuster and allowing minority parties in both chambers more of an opportunity to offer amendments, would open up debate and forestall endless stalemates.

But resolving our dilemma is unlikely to happen quickly. It’s hard to see either side in this partisan divide winning or losing decisively in the elections immediately ahead. Even if one party wins both houses in Congress, it’s not easy to move when the White House is in the control of another party. With the need for 60 votes in the Senate, the minority party can always find ways to slow things down.

Still, it’s worth remembering that American politics is dynamic, not static. Change occurs, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly. We won’t forever be this evenly divided, because public opinion will eventually evolve and the system will respond.

Which raises my final point. Even when our frustration with division and discord spills over into impatience with the system itself, our obligations as American citizens remain the same. We face complex problems that don’t have simple solutions. They demand a willingness to exercise the values of representative democracy: tolerance, mutual respect, accepting ideological differences, working to build consensus.

Our core values accept that the differences in opinions among us will continue, but also compel us to find a way through them so the country can move forward. By accepting the challenges that come with living in a representative democracy and renewing our confidence in it, we can lay the groundwork for change. In the end, we created our political dilemma and are responsible for working our way through it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.



Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



lee hamilton


You might also like


  • The Spayed Club now has THREE transport locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area -- Pot...


  • Fitness Walks

    05/27/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget they gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike th...


  • Gentle Yoga

    05/27/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Join us at Child Guidance's Coatesville Office for an in-depth workshop that will address what is...


  • Hatha Yoga

    05/27/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/28/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Heuchera: The Perfect Shade Plant

    05/28/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Mt. Cuba Center recently completed...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/28/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Heart Health - Preventing Heart Disease & Strokes

    05/28/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    We will learn how healthier eating habits, a manageable fitness routine and simple stress managem...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/29/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    The Delaware Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is hosting its third annual Purple...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    PurpleStride 2015 is a 5K run and family friendly walk. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is b...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/30/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • OA-BEST Expo

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 02:00pm

    FUN FOR ALL! The Chester and Lancaster County communities have always been tied deeply to the ro...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/30/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Explore Native Orchids

    05/30/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover what makes native orchids so special. Join Smithsonian’s orchid expert Tom Mirenda as he...


  • Pawty at the Preserve

    05/30/2015
    03:00pm — 07:00pm

    Join Canine Partners for Life at Pawty at the Preserve, as we celebrate 25 years of creating life...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/25/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    05/25/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Catch living history as the Mohican Base Ball Club (Mohican BBC) of Kennett Square play a exhibit...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/25/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/26/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • The Spayed Club now has THREE transport locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area -- Pot...


  • Fitness Walks

    05/27/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget they gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike th...


  • Gentle Yoga

    05/27/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Join us at Child Guidance's Coatesville Office for an in-depth workshop that will address what is...


  • Hatha Yoga

    05/27/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/28/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Heuchera: The Perfect Shade Plant

    05/28/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Mt. Cuba Center recently completed...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/28/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Heart Health - Preventing Heart Disease & Strokes

    05/28/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    We will learn how healthier eating habits, a manageable fitness routine and simple stress managem...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/29/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    The Delaware Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is hosting its third annual Purple...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    PurpleStride 2015 is a 5K run and family friendly walk. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is b...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/30/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • OA-BEST Expo

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 02:00pm

    FUN FOR ALL! The Chester and Lancaster County communities have always been tied deeply to the ro...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/30/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Explore Native Orchids

    05/30/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover what makes native orchids so special. Join Smithsonian’s orchid expert Tom Mirenda as he...


  • Pawty at the Preserve

    05/30/2015
    03:00pm — 07:00pm

    Join Canine Partners for Life at Pawty at the Preserve, as we celebrate 25 years of creating life...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/31/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/31/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/31/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/01/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/01/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/01/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/02/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Wilmington Handbell Ensemble Concert

    06/02/2015
    07:30pm — 08:15pm

    Presents our spring concert program, "March On"


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/05/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • On June 6th, the Avon Grove High School Football Team will be hosting a community yard sale. Tab...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/06/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • 2015 Chester County Blues Barbeque

    06/06/2015
    02:00pm — 07:00pm

    The Chester County Blues BBQ is an annual event sponsored by the Coventry Lions Club featuring re...


  • Sustainable Splurges: A Feast for the Senses

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Enjoy delicious, locally made foods – wine, chocolate, honey and cheese – while roaming an exclu...


  • 150th Anniversary Civil War Reconciliation Ball

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 10:00pm

    Dinner, Dancing and an Auction! Reconciliation Ball to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the e...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/07/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Steamin' Day at Auburn Heights

    06/07/2015
    12:30pm — 04:30pm

    Join the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights for the first Steamin' Day of the season! New fo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/08/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/08/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/08/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/08/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/09/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/09/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/10/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/10/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/10/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/10/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/11/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/11/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/11/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/12/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/12/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Enjoy a night out with friends at Mt. Cuba Center! Unwind as you sip wine and create garden maste...


  • Indian turnip, eye medicine, war paint - Native Americans depended on plants for food, clothing, ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/13/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/14/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Tropical Fun Night in Penn Park

    06/14/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Penn Township Board of Supervisors are holding their first park event of the year! Sunday, June...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/15/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/15/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/15/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


Chester County High School Sports