I am pessimistic about the long-term prospects for the unity of the United States. I think there are several “structural” features of our system of government which will continue to make the polarization of our country get worse, not better.
First, the Electoral College causes the red states to get redder and the blue states to get bluer. I personally know people who have made decisions about whether to relocate to another state for a job, based on how the other state’s voting profile aligns with their political preferences. Everything else held equal, a liberal Democrat is more likely to be happy in a blue state like California than in a red state like Idaho. Along the same lines, if we hold everything else equal, a conservative Republican is more likely to be happy in a red state like Texas than in a blue state like Washington.
Second, within state borders, gerrymandering of congressional districts has essentially the same effects (and for the same reasons) at the district level as the Electoral College has at the state level. While American voters normally choose their representatives, once every decade Congressional representatives get to choose their voters by redrawing the boundaries of their districts. Republicans draw the boundaries in a way that is best for Republicans, while Democrats do the same for Democrats. I don’t think this makes any sense at all.
These first two points pretty much guarantee the gridlock we find in Congress. Red districts/ states can keep electing Republican Representatives/ Senators, but it will have no impact on blue districts/states which keep electing Democratic Representatives/ Senators. I think this explains why most people tend to be satisfied with their Representative/ Senator, but at the same time do not approve of Congress as a whole. To all such people, I want to ask, “What did you expect?”
But it gets worse.
Third, lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), combined with increasing lifespans, have led to the politicization of the Court. I doubt the Founding Fathers ever foresaw the day when people could be appointed to the Court at the age of 50 and then serve for 40 years, but it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. For better or for worse, as written the Constitution provides for lifetime appointments.
Because “lifetime appointment” means an increasingly longer span of time (corresponding to the increasingly longer life span of Americans), the partisan value of each appointment to the Court has also increased. Regardless of your political views, each opportunity to fill a vacancy on the Court represents a huge “win” for the President’s “party” and a huge “loss” for the opposition party. I believe this can have a dramatic effect on how people vote for POTUS. I, for one, know many deeply conservative Christians who are horrified by Donald Trump’s character, but voted for him anyway because of the Supreme Court. Likewise, I know many liberal Democrats who don’t like Hillary Clinton, but voted for her because they did not want Trump to nominate one or more SC justices.
While this is well known, pundits rarely seem to comment on, much less question, whether it makes sense for SCOTUS appointments to have this big of an impact on POTUS elections. Are the two major political parties so hung up on securing a partisan advantage on the Court that no one bothers to ask whether lifetime appointments continue to be the best option for the country as a whole?
Fourth, the current voting system makes it practically impossible to cast a “safe” vote for a third-party candidate or, for that matter, a non-favored candidate in one of the two major parties. Suppose you really want to vote for the Libertarian ticket. Under the current system, you’re almost certainly going to be wasting your vote; there’s almost no chance of a third-party ticket winning. This might be great news if you favor one of the two major parties, but not so good if you don’t.
It’s not hard to come up with solutions for each of these problems, but the current system is rigged to make it pretty much impossible to implement them.
Regarding (1), the most obvious solution is to abolish the Electoral College and switch to a National Popular Vote. Contrary to what some critics say, this idea doesn’t require a Constitutional Amendment. Why? Because the Constitution already grants to the states the absolute power to decide how to award their electoral votes. And another part of the Constitution allows for “interstate compacts,” which are basically like treaties between the states. So if enough states join an “interstate compact” regarding the National Popular Vote, POTUS and VPOTUS will be chosen by popular vote and not the electoral college. No Constitutional Amendment required.
Although no Constitutional Amendment is required, this will still be very difficult to implement. Many less populous states, like Idaho and Wyoming, incorrectly see the National Popular Vote as a method which will allow California and New York to choose POTUS/VPOTUS. They’re wrong about that, but that perception fuels much of the opposition.
Turning to (2), the best way to stop this would be to amend the Constitution to prohibit it. That would require enormous support in both the Congress and 3/4 of State Legislatures. In fact, it would require bipartisan support. But neither of the two major political parties have any incentive to effectively weaken their power.
Regarding (3), this too could be fixed with a Constitutional Amendment. You could “grandfather” in any SCOTUS justices on the Court at the time the Amendment was ratified, and say that any justices appointed after ratification would be limited to a single 20-year term in their lifetime. This seems fair to both sides, but again it is a Constitutional Amendment and so it is very doubtful it would get the support required.
Finally, as for (4), something like “Ranked Choice Voting“–look it up if you’re not familiar with it–would make it “safe”to vote for third-party candidates or”maverick” candidates within the two major parties. But, again, for something like POTUS/VPOTUS, this would require a Constitutional Amendment and so is very doubtful.
For all these reasons, then, I’m sorry to say that I think our country will continue get more, not less, polarized, and this will be the case no matter who sits in the White House.
And this causes me to worry that the union of the states may ultimately fail. Not necessarily through a violent civil war, but through the political equivalent of a divorce. Just look at the recent movement in California to secede from the Union (“calexit“). If you read the websites which talk about it and allow comments, you’ll find many self-identified conservatives from red states posting comments which say things like “good riddance.”