The Global Consequences of American Polarization

MADRID – Another bitter battle has played out in the US Congress – and amounted to nothing. US Republicans have yet again used the filibuster to thwart legislation aimed at countering new voting restrictions around the country, and Democrats have failed to change filibuster rules to get it passed. The saga exemplifies the turmoil, polarization, and paralysis that have engulfed American politics and will undoubtedly shape November’s mid-term congressional elections. This state of affairs should worry the rest of the world.

In recent years, American society has been riven by misunderstanding and mistrust. By creating algorithm-driven “echo chambers,” social-media platforms have compounded these problems, reinforcing people’s existing views, discrediting opponents, and facilitating the emergence of an over-zealous “cancel culture.” The honest self-reflection and open dialogue needed to enable reform and reconciliation have become all but impossible.

As political leaders have learned to capitalize on polarization, the situation has deteriorated further. Former President Donald Trump’s populist, isolationist, and capricious rhetoric and policies exacerbated polarization and stoked volatility. Now, political scientist Barbara F. Walter warns, the United States is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.”

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