By Cody Cain
Updated: November 1, 2016 12:44 PM ET | Originally published: August 29, 2016
IDEAS
Cain is a writer

When our two-party system of Democrats vs. Republicans is functioning properly, there is much to recommend it. The two opposing political parties strive to offer their best ideas for governing, and the privilege of selecting between the two competing visions is bestowed upon the voters. Indeed, this is a worthy model for making decisions in society.

In recent years, however, something has gone terribly awry.

The Republican Party made the deliberate calculation that its best prospects for success lay not in abiding by the system and offering its superior ideas for governing, but instead in undermining the system by seeking to destroy its opponent.

A prime example of this assault was the Republican vow to oppose everything and anything proposed by President Obama’s administration. The Republicans specifically intended to impose suffering upon millions of innocent Americans all across the nation by causing gridlock in government. The idea behind all of this was that a suffering nation would blame President Obama for all the misery and thus elect Republicans.

This deplorable strategy from our political leaders is hardly the sort of conduct that our great democracy was designed to foster.

Another component of the Republican strategy has been to publicly attack President Obama incessantly in the most vile of terms. Many Republicans have abandoned any and all vestiges of dignity, decorum and respect, and hurled attacks at Obama as if he were an invading Mongol from a foreign land intent upon the destruction of nothing less than civilization itself. The abandonment of any semblance of propriety has been utterly astounding.

Regardless of one’s political views, Obama has certainly not deserved such appalling treatment. Of course, one can disagree with Obama, but he is clearly a man of integrity, intelligence and compassion who is genuinely attempting to improve the lives of the people of this nation. Honest disagreements could well be made within the bounds of rectitude.

The Republicans have now turned their scorched-earth tactics against the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. The Republicans have again abandoned any and all sense of decency to attack Clinton personally as though she were an incarnation of a fire-breathing Lucifer.

The short-term goal is clear: namely, to win the immediate election. But the Republicans fail to appreciate that their tactics have a devastating long-term effect on society. As the Republicans create gridlock and play political games to seize power for themselves, their tactics gradually but conclusively erode public confidence in the underlying system of government itself. The relentless political bashing destroys not only the opposing political party, but it backfires and also destroys the attacking political party as well. In fact, it destroys the entire system. So these blistering attacks for short-term gain are extremely irresponsible and downright dangerous.

All the gridlock and fear-mongering causes the public to grow ever more frustrated and begin to lose confidence in the institutions of government. People eventually come to the conclusion that the government no longer works for anyone. The fabric of society begins to pull apart. This forces the public to lash out in unexpected ways. It leads to devastating consequences, such as the rise of horrendous political candidates like Donald Trump.

If Trump were to win the election in November, this would send a horrible message. A Trump victory would loudly proclaim that all of these underhanded political strategies of creating gridlock and sowing the seeds of frustration and division are indeed successful strategies. It would prove that these vile strategies work. As a result, of course, we would see these strategies multiply. We would be subjected to ever more gridlock, division and polarization. And this would create a vicious downward spiral for our overall society in the long-term.

If the election turns out to be close—even if Trump were defeated—these vile political strategies would still flourish. The Republican Party would likely conclude that their tactics brought them near to victory, so these tactics are effective and should be pursued more vigorously.

If, on the other hand, Trump suffered an enormous defeat in an overwhelming landslide, well, then, this would send a very different message. And imagine if this landslide also led to the Democratic Party gaining control of the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and various state and local governments as well.

Republicans would be forced to face the reality that, in fact, their vile strategies of division and destruction incited the worst instincts in their party, led to the rise of the disastrous Trump candidacy and resulted in utter failure. They would be forced to abandon their scorched-earth tactics, and instead return to the good old-fashioned concept of what our system is all about in the first place. Namely, the Republicans would be forced into focusing less on destroying their opponents, and more on offering positive and constructive ideas of their own. They would also be forced to abandon their “my way or the highway” approach, and instead compromise with the Democrats to forge bipartisan solutions to governing.

Our system would then be returned to balance, and the public trust in our government would be restored. A landslide defeat of Trump would not only dispatch with a dangerous demagogue, but it would also go a long way toward restoring the proper functioning of our democracy.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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