The view that "politics is akin to a marriage" is a casual, if not an often-expressed, sentiment. Unfortunately, almost no one takes the metaphor seriously and thus uses it to do a serious evaluation of the state of health of American politics. If we did, we would soon conclude that the "marriage" between the two major political parties is headed towards divorce, if it is not already there but for the working out of the final terms of the divorce settlement and the formal signing of the papers.
Those who have studied long-term marriages have consistently arrived at the same relatively small set of factors that make marriages successful. They are:
1. Firm Commitment;
3. Honest Communication;
4. Never Stop Dating;
5. G. I. V. E.;
6. C. M. A. T. (Can't Miss A Thing); and,
What's important is that all of the above form a tightly interlocking system. If any of them is missing or weak, then the entire marriage is in danger. Unfortunately, this is the case with the "marriage" between the Republican and Democratic parties. Let's look briefly each of these factors in turn.
Commitment means that in spite of the inevitable relational strife that is part of every marriage, there is a strong commitment to stay and work together. In politics where strife is not only inevitable but a vital necessity in order to arrive at sensible and effective policies and actions, the two parties have to be absolutely committed to work through their differences for their sake and the nation as a whole.
The only deal breakers in a marriage are the three A's: adultery, abuse, and alcoholism, i.e., serious drug dependency. While adultery and alcoholism might not apply, abuse certainly does. The repeated, over-the-top, highly inflammatory talk of the Republican candidates certainly qualifies as "abuse" in my report card. In this sense, "alcoholism" can be interpreted as an "addiction" to language that is certain to drive any two people apart.
Acceptance means tolerance of the other partner's peccadillos. In the case of politics, it means accepting that the other party's philosophy and values are not inherently evil, just different.
Both parties are seriously at fault here even though as a partisan, liberal Democrat, I find more fault with Republicans. But then to be perfectly honest, I am one of the parties filing for divorce. I have no pretensions to "objectivity." I don't believe humans are capable of such a thing anyway.
Honest communication means establishing the conditions in order for it to occur. It is often said that one of the reasons for the enduring success of the British parliament is that after a heated day of argument, members would retire to club to drink and repair their feelings. We used to do so as well, but we've lost the ability to go on "weekend marriage retreats" that are necessary to repair any marriage. In fairness, the Brits have not been fairing well here recently as well.
"Never stop dating" is exactly what it means. It means more than an occasional weekend retreat. It means making the constant time to appreciate and charm the other.
In the best marriages, both partners give 60%, not 50-50. Where the other is seen as the "enemy to be destroyed," this has all but died.
Can't Miss A Thing means that life is indeed too short not to enjoy it. We have only a short time on Earth to learn how to work with our opposites.
And, finally, without respect, nothing is possible.
Given all this, sadly, an amicable divorce is not only completely out of the question, but it's already bitter.
If the divorce proceedings are already well under way such that the current marriage cannot be saved, have the two parties learned anything so that they will fare any better the second time around? Are there any prospects of better second marriages?
In its current form, I believe the answer for the Republican party is a firm "No!" Unless the party undergoes a complete makeover so that it is no longer a mob of right-wing extremists, then I see no viable prospects for future marriages that are healthy and long-lasting.
Ian I. Mitroff is an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley. He is the co-author of "Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely" (Stanford, 2009). His is also the co-author of "Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping with the Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes" (Stanford, 2011).