Politics is always about power, but it is not inherently so malicious. “[W]hile partisan animus began to rise in the 1980s, it has grown dramatically over the past two decades,” Stanford University political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Masha Krupenkin wrote in a 2018 study in Political Psychology. Support for one’s own political tribes is increasingly linked to opposition to outsiders, they found, so much so that “hostility toward the opposing party has eclipsed positive affect for one’s own party as a motive for political participation” — which is to say Americans are more likely to vote against the other party than for their own. Out with, “When they go low, we go high;” in with, “When they go low, we kick them.”
This negative partisanship means much of the 2020 election is focused on the perceived evil we want to punish or the allegedly deserved pain we wish to inflict over the good we hope to accomplish: Universal childcare, student debt cancellation, and universal free college are great or whatever, but what’s really fantastic about a wealth tax is the chance to stick it to those selfish moneybags. Or among Trump’s crowd: Lower taxes, less regulation, sure, but let’s talk mass deportation, an alligator-filled border moat, or shooting migrants in the legs.