The Era of Good Feelings is the term used to describe the aftermath of the War of 1812 where the American nation sought to establish national unity during a period of one-party dominance. The Federalist Party, representing the urban and aristocratic citizens, disappeared after the disastrous Hartford Convention in 1814, leaving only the Jeffersonian Republicans as the sole political party. The Jeffersonian Republicans so dominated the political landscape that President James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820 and would have won a unanimous vote in the electoral college except for the vote of a few rouge electors.
With the death of the Federalist Party, Monroe went on a national goodwill tour in 1817. While in Boston, the former Federalist stronghold, the term Era of Good Feeling was first used in a local paper.
I am coining a new term to describe the current state of affairs of American politics: the Era of Bad Feelings.
We have two political parties and each one hates the other. While political parties, by nature, are competitive, they have had a history of working together until the 1980s. After about a half-century of Democratic Party dominance in Congress from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Republican Party decided to stop working with the Democrats and, instead, oppose them on virtually every issue. Compromise was replaced by conflict.
The end of compromise led to the collapse of ideological diversity in both political parties. Entering the 1980s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties had a mix of moderates, liberals and conservatives. Today, the Republicans have a few moderates among the mostly conservative ranks, and the Democrats have a few moderates among its liberal base. The political center is gone and the political extremes dominate both parties.
Political hatred of the other party has grown so strong, that it affects what we read, what we watch, where we live and even who we marry. A Pew Research study of 10,000 Americans found that partisans prefer living in communities of like-minded individuals. Fifty percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals think it is “important to live in a place where people share my political views.”
Liberals watch MSNBC and read American Prospect, the Progressive and the Daily Kos. Conservatives have Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to listen to, and they read the Drudge Report, Weekly Standard, National Review and Breitbart.
As Americans increasingly live in communities of like-minded individuals and limit their viewing and reading only to sources that support their political views, it has led to a hardening of the political arteries. They constantly have their own political views reinforced instead of challenged.
Political hatred is becoming so ingrained in Americans that parents increasingly object to their children marrying outside their faith. I’m not talking about religious faith, but their political faith. A half-century ago, only 5 percent of Americans objected if their child married a member of the opposite party. Today, that number has increased to 40 percent.
As part of the growing intolerance of those who hold opposing political views, we increasingly engage in stereotyping to justify our hatred. Instead of dealing with individuals, it is easier to ascribe negative traits to everyone who belongs to the “wrong party.”
Republicans stereotype Democrats as socialists intent on destroying the free enterprise system and encouraging individuals to go on welfare rather than work. Remember Mitt Romney‘s statement to Republican donors that he could not win the vote of 47 percent of the American voters because they were dependent on government handouts?
Democrats attack Republicans as homophobic Neanderthals who hate women and minorities, and they have no compassion for the less fortunate in society.
Stereotyping is the lazy person’s way to stop dealing with people as individuals and instead lump everyone together as a bad person. It is so much easier to dismiss the ideas of an entire group, than it is to sit down and talk about an issue and how to resolve it.
The most recent manifestation of the Era of Bad Feelings is the 2016 presidential election. Many Republicans hated Hillary Clinton. They would argue that they disliked her because of her policies, but most could not envision any circumstance under which they could support her.
Democrats hated Donald Trump because they viewed him as a racist and a womanizer, and they also believed he was unprepared to be president. To many Democrats, the billionaire Trump could never understand the burdens of poor Americans.
Sixty-three million Americans voted for Trump and, yet, somehow Democrats are convinced all of them were crazy. Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump, but Republicans saw this as a sign of Democratic insanity.
If we spent a fraction of the time trying to understand and empathize with members of the other party, we may actually find that most of them are decent, honest people who have the same concerns that we have. We might even discover that they may have a better idea than we have.
We cannot expect more of politicians than we expect of ourselves. It is time to end the irrational hatred that is counter to our real values and is impeding our ability to solve the problems that desperately need to be solved.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics, political parties and elections.