Is America becoming the next France? Is our political system becoming as polarized as that of the French Third and Fourth Republics?
According to the late British political scientist, Sir Bernard Crick, politics is the art of conciliating diversity peacefully in a given unit of rule. Some political systems have done this better than others. The U.S. is among the more successful in enabling people of varying interests and viewpoints to get along within a common constitutional framework commanding near universal loyalty.
Until recently the political parties themselves played a role similar to that of the system as a whole. Yes, Democrats and Republicans were opponents, but each party was a broad-based coalition of citizens with a variety of commonalities — some economic, and some ideological, regional and religious in character. Progressives and conservatives found a place in both parties, coexisting willingly, if not always enthusiastically. Southerners tended to vote Democratic, while northerners voted Republican. Different Christian denominations were at home in each party as well: Catholics and Southern Baptists supported the Democrats, and northern mainline and evangelical Protestants the Republicans.