Philanthropy in a Time of Polarization
From Heather Hurlburt, Mark Schmitt, and Steven Teles, writing for Philanthropy News Digest:
This model accounts with a fair degree of accuracy for some of the great legislative successes of the past few decades, including tax reform in the 1980s, Medicaid expansion in the 1990s, and education reform in the 2000s. It was a model that aligned almost perfectly with the cultural assumptions of philanthropy. Assuming that bipartisan coalitions and elite bargaining were the key to progress, the model justified disengagement from the partisan fray. Foundations have traditionally seen themselves as part of civil society — as mediating institutions that form a bridge between dispassionate knowledge and political advocacy. Their resources, many in the sector have hoped, could fund objective, nonpartisan research that would take the edge off partisan conflicts and pave the way for broadly accepted social progress.
But in recent years, American politics has taken on a different cast, and the old model has repeatedly run into the buzz saw of partisan and ideological polarization. Gun safety legislation, a job-creation initiative, campaign finance reform, and (so far, at least) immigration reform — all fell apart, even though foundations and the groups that they support have worked assiduously to follow all the rules of the familiar model. Partisan politics and ideology have become more closely aligned, leaving less room for maneuver between the two parties and greater opportunity for an ideologically unified party to block change. Science, disinterested analysis, and establishment institutions can no longer close the partisan divide.