A Way to Get Beyond the Politics of Division

We need to value problem solving over partisanship. There are lessons to be learned from international negotiations.

America is dangerously divided. Instead of a national dialogue, a vicious partisanship tears our social fabric and impedes government’s ability to get things done. It’s time for a new approach.

Before becoming a state senator, I worked for the United Nations for 10 years on negotiations and conflict analysis — first in Iraq, then in Jerusalem and Syria. Lessons from international negotiation help explain our own divisions and point to a way out.

How have we gotten to this frighteningly divisive point in our history? To start, major shifts in our political process, media and economy since the 1980s have encouraged division. Gerrymandering and massive increases in campaign contributions have incentivized partisan rhetoric. Social media amplifies these divisions. And as the U.S. economy has shifted away from manufacturing, working-class wages have stagnated.

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Each change since the 1980s has heightened the feeling so many Americans have of being under attack — the belief that other groups lack respect for your group and are indifferent to your needs. It feels like a duty to stand for your community when it seems under threat. As a result, we have reached a stalemate in politics and government.

From a conflict-resolution perspective, stalemates are not bad; they can open the way to engagement. But first each side must recognize that they cannot move beyond stalemate and reach their own goals without the other side’s consent. We need a new approach to the political…

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