An old friend and I talked recently about politics. We focused on the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., both of us bemoaning the fact that just when we think things can’t get worse, another atomic bomb goes off in the White House or Congress.

Politics is no longer about competent governance, what’s best for the American people. It’s a perpetual cycle of attack and retaliation, feeding media buzzards that pounce on the carrion of elected officials and public servants who’ve been pulled down by empowerment organizations. Hugs and kisses can get you in trouble these days faster than stealing a million dollars from the public coffers.

Joe Biden is an example. To my knowledge, he’s never been accused of criminal malfeasance. A hale fellow, well-met and not a bad guy for a Democrat, Biden is certainly capable of compromise and moving the national agenda forward. But accusations that he violated the personal space of women has branded him, whether or not there was any untoward intent on his part.

My friend and I had looked forward to Biden and President Trump squaring off in 2020, but this appears unlikely now.  We aren’t newcomers to state or national politics. We’ve been involved in election campaigns, served as liaisons for U.S. Senate and House staffs of both parties and worked behind the scenes on various projects at the behest of members of Congress.

Our concern is that the viciousness, hatred, lying and ignorance currently pervading national politics weakens our nation and moves us closer to the unthinkable: a schism that can’t be healed without forced fundamental change.

First, it is worth acknowledging that current warfare between the two major political parties—even within the parties themselves—seems unprecedented. The proverbial Swamp has swollen into a poison ocean where buccaneer fleets of special interests and activists set forth on missions to capture-and-destroy opponents, their pirate ships filled with treasure chests of donor gold and propelled by sails that billow in the gusts of media wind.

Forget the impartiality and objectivity of the Fourth Estate. National media junked those principles in favor of participatory carnage. Former news-reporting outlets which occasionally took public positions are now opinionated, manipulative and brazenly one-sided. Social media, newspapers, the networks and cable TV are the sharks of the poison political ocean, ready to rip apart anyone who doesn’t agree with their agendas, including other sharks (CNN and MSNBC versus Fox News, for example).

After the last election cycle, a new breed of politico was elevated by the media sharks. These freshmen lawmakers have been granted news-cycle prominence out of proportion to their intelligence, veracity, abilities, trustworthiness, platforms and commitment to the nation. I won’t mention any names except to note there is a flock of them with socialist agendas, and they appear incapable of compromise or effective problem-solving.

Many of them, apparently, never studied American history or the principles of democratic governance. For example, the media’s twittering favorite among the new socialists recently stated that Republicans forced Franklin D. Roosevelt out of office.

Roosevelt, arguably the most effective modern U.S. president, died in office while World War II was still underway. He was the only president who served more than two terms. The Twenty-Second Amendment, ratified in 1951, limited the chief executive to two terms for a total of eight years.

The fact that this socialist did not know the life story of her party’s famed Twentieth-Century leader (and was unaware of a crucial amendment to the U.S. Constitution) made those of us who passed high school democracy groan in disbelief. (In 2018, a nonprofit organization, Rock the Vote, announced it would launch democracy classes to educate high school students. They should have made participation by new congressional candidates mandatory.)

ν Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor. He resides in Tennessee.