On September 11, General Clark and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a discussion at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The talk centered around the importance of bipartisanship, the future of our democracy, and combating polarization of the American political system.
The discussion kicked off with concerns about the pivotal nature of this election cycle. Both Gov. Hogan and Gen. Clark expressed wary optimism that the election would not end in violence and a constitutional crisis, as suggested by this Washington Post article. However, both speakers recognized the deeply polarized environment in the United States, with Gen. Clark stating that, “this is the most polarized America has been since the Civil War.” Gov. Hogan called for the entrenched partisanship of our democracy to be quelled and more bipartisan cooperation to offset our polarized environment.
Gov. Hogan, a Republican governor in a deeply blue state, suggested that the best way to overcome polarization was to avoid party rhetoric and look for the right ideas, not just Republican or Democratic ideas. Using Maryland as an example, he highlighted that no bills would pass without bipartisanship.
The conversation then turned to the origin of American polarization. Gen. Clark and Gov. Hogan identified three major trends in creating a polarized United States. First, the American people tend to fall into echo chambers, where they only consume one news source that channels only one slant. This creates a news trap, where the populace only receives biased information from the same source. Second, the emergence of social media and online influencers make disinformation and misinformation much more accessible and widespread. Third, political parties deliberately create an enemy in the opposite party to drum up support against the opposing side. Through self-created echo chambers, disinformation on social media, and entrenched partisan rhetoric, we live in an increasingly polarized America.
Both men have either ran for president or expressed interest in becoming president, prompting the question: if you were president now, how would you unite America and solve the problem? Gen. Clark emphasized the need to get dark money out of elections and promoted open primaries to prevent far right and far left candidates from continuing to win primary cycles. He also emphasized the importance of the attitude of the president. A president needs to behave in a unifying manner, protecting all Americans, not just those in red states. Gov. Hogan agreed with Gen. Clark’s solutions and proposed a less polarized and more bipartisan approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession.
Some questions from the audience included solutions to combat polarization, such as a moderate third party or ranked-choice voting. Gen. Clark stated that while a moderate third party has been attempted historically, but has never been successful, as evidenced by Ross Perot’s infamous presidential campaign. Gen. Clark also stated that ranked-choice voting is a possibility, but parties will try to combat a vote for it, as ranked-choice decentralizes party power.
In conclusion, a Republican Governor and a Democratic presidential candidate held an insightful and important conversation on the importance of bipartisanship, unity following this election cycle, and civil leadership. The event speaks to the importance of cooperation and looks to set an example for American political discourse during this polarizing time. The video for the event is linked here.