Two of the best-selling books in America 30 years ago were “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” and “You Just Don’t Understand,” both of which were essentially about the same thing: how we just keep talking past one another. A full generation later, the data doesn’t suggest we’ve made much progress.

The biggest loser over this same period has been persuasion. Nowadays, we don’t even bother trying to woo the other side to our own anymore. In politics as in other things, the game is now all about polarization. Mobilize your base, and demonize your opponent.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, a draft decision to this effect had been leaked two months ago. The question of interest now is what comes next, and if the trend-line we’ve been on for a while now is any indication, the answer is more polarization.

Almost every institution of government now faces severe attacks on its legitimacy: topically the Supreme Court, but also Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Disease Control and the list goes on and on, down to state and local levels.

“The latent causes of faction,” James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10, “are sewn in the nature of men.” That being the case, he went on to argue, one could not solve the divisiveness that is baked into us, but one can control the effects of faction. His remedy was for a Republic rather than a pure democracy, an enlargement of the orb (a big country), and a system of federalism in which powers are balanced.

What Madison did not count on were artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms that put us in silos, or the dramatic changes in our culture 225 years later. What the combination of these things has brought is an array of different realities, each held by competing groups. This only exacerbates the widening gulfs between people that those best-selling books explored not so long ago.

Moderates and bridge-builders are the most vulnerable figures in our system at a time when they are most needed. Whatever the actual reason Susan Collins put her Bangor home on the market last week, it’s a pretty safe bet she’s tired of being singled out because she has shown herself open to persuasion on contentious issues. On the case of Roe being settled law she was duped, as was West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

All the sound and fury on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization provided the necessary distractive cover for a handful of Senate moderates on both sides to forge consensus on a gun bill. Those who have been calling for action since Uvalde, or name your school massacre, take note. Created in part to accommodate Madison’s remedy for the effects of faction, the Senate remains a place where persuasion can, sometimes, work. But as we hurtle toward maximum polarization, these instances are few and far between.

When the news leaked in early May that the Supremes were going to overturn Roe v. Wade, targeted protests of justices intensified (including a California man who allegedly sought to assassinate Brett Kavanaugh), but when you take out the extremes, public debate on the question was pretty ho-hum. It took the actual decision for the enormity of the moment to sink in, whichever side you take on the issue. That’s because the factions were using up all the oxygen.

If the trend toward polarization continues, our country is headed to a dark place. On the question of abortion, America will continue to be divided literally into states where it is legal and where it is not. That doesn’t mean we are sliding toward civil war, so long as we don’t give up on the value of persuasion in other areas.

A minority voice on his own court, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his dissent on Dobbs that the court chose dramatic action where it wasn’t necessary, that the legal question could have been addressed without overturning Roe. Presumably that was an argument he lost. Still, that’s no reason for the rest of us to give up on making persuasion the center of our public discourse.

During the constitutional convention, a woman in Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin what sort of government this new scheme delivered: a democracy or a republic? “A Republic,” Franklin famously responded, “if you can keep it.”

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.