Something is wrong with American politics and it’s not partisanship. It’s phony unifiers who mawkishly promise bonhomie when their true aim is to align just enough of their partisans and partisan-leaning independents to win. The promise of unity is a cynical tool to win elections, not a governing approach. …

According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, partisan differences widened and accelerated at a larger scale and faster rate from 1999 to 2012 than at any time since Pew started recording such metrics in 1987. Pew has asked 48 so-called values questions of Republicans and Democrats every year since and built elaborate subsets of their answers based on sex, race, ethnicity, age, and income. From 1987 to 1999, the partisan difference on all 48 questions shifted by about 1 percentage point between surveys. In 1987, the divide between Republicans and Democrats was 10 points. In 1999, it was 11 points. …

Division, for lack of a better word, is good. That’s the Gordon Gekko side of politics. Division forces people to listen to an argument and take sides. Silly and front-loaded appeals to unity and post-partisanship fog the mind, delay action, and deepen mistrust. Over time, voters begin to understand they are being deceived. People take stands for a reason and want the politicians they send to Washington do the same (71 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats want more partisan fealty, not less). This is not inconsistent with democracy. It is democracy. That’s the cynical secret of presidential leadership.