America's Partisanship is an Inevitable Evolution of its Democracy | Opinion

America, as a former mentor of mine used to say, is a great nation full of good people who often do amazing things. We are the most generous nation on earth. We accept, even as the current crisis rages on the U.S. border with Mexico, people from all over the world who'd like, at some point, to become citizens.

We are not only the freest, fairest nation in world history, we are one of the most prosperous. Everyone really does have the opportunity to realize the American Dream, if not for themselves, then for their children.

All that means there's a lot to fight over, which, for good or for bad, has been what's produced so much of the polarization that now has some people so concerned. It shouldn't.

Following the end of World War II, a governing, left-of-center national consensus emerged and held through the creation of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It was maintained by a largely liberal coalition that included both Democrats and Republicans. In 1968, after Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and the followers of George McGovern took over the national Democratic Party, things began to change.

Slowly but surely the conservatives that made up such an important part of the Democratic electoral coalition were pushed out. Those politicians and many of the voters who backed them began moving to the right. The Democratic Party grew more liberal while the Republicans became more conservative leading, in 1980, to Ronald Reagan's election and a GOP majority in the U.S. Senate for the first time in more than three decades.

Up to that point, it was a generally assumed the Democrats were the party of permanent power and the permanent government in Washington. Sure, the Republicans had shown they could win the White House, but they couldn't capture Congress, meaning the members of the party of Lincoln had to be content with whatever scraps the Democrats were willing to let them have regarding taxes, spending, and appropriations.

Reagan changed all that. He recreated a national, two-party system and laid the groundwork for Newt Gingrich to lead Republicans to majority status in 1994 with the Contract with America. The GOP hold on the U.S. House of Representatives has been fairly consistent since then, as has its hold on governorships and state legislative chambers. That's made conservative policy options competitive, leading, for example, to the landmark welfare reform legislation that President Bill Clinton agreed to sign into law only after his top political advisor, Dick Morris, told him he risked losing the 1996 presidential election if he didn't.

All of which obscures just how much the liberals hated those policy changes, because they were real, because they mattered and, as was eventually shown by the data, they worked.

The American political establishment—President Donald Trump calls it "The Swamp"—is now fighting a battle to hold on to what it believed was its by right. There are now two national parties: one largely urban and strong in the Northeast and on the West Coast; the other dominant in the South, generally strong in the Middle West, and in rural areas. Together they're fighting it out over the suburbs and, to a lesser extent, the exurbs, where voters are not so much "moderate" as unlikely to embrace the fringe elements present in the base of either party.

These fights are real. One party is for higher taxes, consistently, wherever they can get them. The other favors cutting taxes, or at least keeping rates where they are. One wants to prop up a failing education system by pumping more money into it while the other is embracing competition and choice as the ways to lift the educational tide.

One party generally wants to abolish the private ownership of guns while the other believes this to be a personal right explicitly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. One party takes the pro-abortion rights position almost universally, while the other opposes abortion. And one invokes God and the Creator as often as practicable while the other forgets to include even a single mention of him in the 2012 draft party platform at its national convention.

There are other issues where the choices the two parties offer are just as stark. On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy, on national security strategy and a host of other things that really matters, the voters are being offered a genuine choice about the country's future direction.

Some politicians and political activists and pundits don't like that. They think it's ugly and impolite, perhaps because they don't have good counter-arguments and can't win. Overall, if it remains peaceful, it's all probably good for the country because it's an essential part of the development of a new governing consensus for American in the 21st century.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff is has written extensively about politics, culture, and the media for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and various other publications. He can be reached by email at Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​