Do the political parties serve the people they claim to represent, or do they use the people as a tool to advance the agendas of the party power brokers? That’s kind of a chicken-or-egg question I guess.

It seems to me that while the parties do have basic lofty tenets about how to legislate for the greater benefit of mankind, it feels more and more that those beliefs are just window dressing and that the party bosses know what they want and do their best to convince the voters that what is good for the party is good for the people. That is, they cultivate votes.

Nowhere is this seen as depressingly as in the state of political discourse today.

Rather than bringing people together for a common dream, the parties seek to unite people through a common nightmare that basically pits American against American, all so that the party’s candidates can win elections. Of course, winning elections makes it possible to advance the party philosophy, but that seems to be little more than — I hate to say it — winning elections.

Maybe it’s always been that way and I’ve just been too dumb to see it, or maybe it’s gotten so bad that even someone as dumb as me has to see it.

It is certainly effective to unite people against a common enemy, but let’s make sure that that common enemy is an actual threat and not just a bogeyman. Hillary Clinton set the Democratic Party up for failure by making sure that Democrats recognized that anybody who supported Trump was a “deplorable.”

That gave all of those who weren’t Clinton supporters a pretty good idea of their standing in the eyes of the chosen. You can argue against your opponents’ political beliefs all you want, but you can’t insult the people who hold those beliefs without serious repercussions. I think that mistake will haunt the Democrats for years. If Democrats ever really deserved the title of “elitists,” they own it now.

The Republicans aren’t at all blameless, either. Whether or not Trump is racist or whatever he may be (which still baffles me), his use of the race/religion card only drives the people of America further apart and encourages hatred of others for not very good reasons.

I believe that it is possible for people to relate to one another on terms that have little to do with political or religious beliefs. Eliminate those two issues (and maybe professional sports) from conversations and there is, I believe, lots of room to agree.

When I think of how people can get along better, I think of the way that speed limits are set — OK, bear with me, I will make it sound related in a minute. Speed limits are set by measuring how fast people drive on a certain stretch of road. Then the extremists — the few slowpokes and fewer speeders are isolated and the rest of the speeds averaged, and there you have the reasonable speed limit.

It may be a revelation that people want to drive at speeds that won’t kill them, but they do. Take out the extreme political positions from the conversations and you will find, I believe, that people know how to get along with one another just as they know how safe it is to drive at a certain speed.

We don’t need to drive each other apart, and we certainly don’t need political parties that help us do that. Both parties have done their best to differentiate their philosophies only by running the other party down.

We are a bigger nation than that. Coming together to accomplish common benefits is how America became great. You know, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.