The Politics of Polarization

An interview with Zaman Stanizai, Ph.D.

By Shelley B. Blank  |  

December 14, 2016 AT 1:49 PM


Last Updated: 

December 20, 2016 1:50 pm

Protesters rally outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 in Chicago, Ill.,  in opposition of Donald Trump's presidential election victory. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Protesters rally outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 in Chicago, Ill., in opposition of Donald Trump's presidential election victory. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune via AP)


Dr. Zaman Stanizai is a professor of Mythological Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. He also teaches Political Science at California State University, Dominguez Hills. As a Fulbright scholar, he has worked in Indo-Iranian languages and as a political scientist he writes on the politicization of ethno-linguistic and religious identities in regional conflicts. He blogs on Huntington Post, the Middle East Institute, and, as well as in

SBB: What is your overview of the political election as an event from a historical perspective?
ZS: The overwhelming dissatisfaction with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is a symptom of a serious dysfunction in the American political system.
The U.S. Constitution was designed to serve the small, newly independent union on the North American continent in the 18th century. The founding fathers have to be commended for having the vision, wisdom, and foresight in designing a political system that has lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations and for drafting a constitution that has served well most of the people for most of its early history.

However, in view of the 21st-century reality where the United States is a global power, there are serious incompatibilities in the U.S. Constitution that need to be resolved. Not only are there unresolved controversies such as the interpretation of the Second Amendment, but there is also a need for the realignment of the dated U.S. Constitution with those of the many states that have been reformed through constitutional conventions more than 230 times since the founding of the country, according to Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution.

SBB: The electoral college system?

ZS: A reform of a more urgent nature has to be considered in view of the more controversial presidential elections since the turn of the century, where virtually every one of the presidential elections was fraught with systemic irregularities: From the slavery-era Electoral College that effected the 2000 and 2016 elections, to the closely-tied winner-take-all arrangement that has created the so-called battleground states and thereby virtually disenfranchises the great majority of the American people outside of these battleground states.

SBB: The two-party system? 
ZS: An equally serious and urgent problem to resolve is ending the two-party monopoly in the American political system. This, arrangement, too, disenfranchises a considerable percentage of the American electorate who are regularly forced to choose between the lesser of the two evils instead of having a meaningful choice in electing from a wide array of candidates.

SBB: How does the election of a person with this type of background become elected to the highest office in the land? Is money infecting the American political process, and how will this be interpreted by the largest country in the world, China?

ZS: A third essential reform is the constitutionally decreed public financing of the election process in order to make the United States truly a government of the people and not merely the best democracy money can buy. Along with this reform, the use of the public airwaves ought to be returned to the public, at least during periods of election years, so that public airwaves can serve the public interest rather than corporate greed. Thus, this for-profit use of the public airwaves should at least have partially non-profit public benefit segments during election years.

SBB: You and I have spoken of a new constitutional convention.

ZS: Such a constitutional convention should be convened with the participation of a non-partisan majority so that the stranglehold of the Democratic and Republican monopoly can be terminated at the same time.

ZS: Thank you, Zaman.

SBB: Thank you, Shelley.

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

— Thomas Paine

Reflections: The Politics of Polarization and the Poetry of Pain

The poetry of pain is not a soothing sound to the ear. It’s the harsh sound of your front bumpers crunching against and crushing tail lights, as a lyrical voice is saying, “You couldn’t keep up your car insurance payments.”

It’s not the contemplation of the beauty of sunrises. It’s the grim awareness of not having a creative voice in your country’s accomplishments because of your lack of financial inheritance, or the limitations of your race, or of your educational or immigrational inheritance.

But most of all, it is the poem of constant desperation that makes you the poet of desperate political choices. 

The politics of polarization is using these elements of fear and desperation, to make the promise of false solutions appear to be the elusive guarantee of solving your life’s problems, and that all you have to do is bring your fear and emotions, rather than your reasoning and research, into the voting booth.

Shelley B. Blank has worked with major national and international newspapers as a journalist as well as a corporate executive. He has produced programs for Public Radio and lectured on modern multimedia communications and technology.