Liberal meant freedom-loving once. Conservative meant upholding time-tested values. Their “competition” could be seen, within the noise brought on by corruption and bad-faith, as a way to work out differences held for laudable reasons, a balancing of perspectives. This may never have actually been true, but it was the way the struggles were portrayed, the way young recruits were brought in to populate the ranks. The cynical, either outsiders lacking in a sense of trust whether with cause or only as a reflex, “knew better.” But most felt these were “ideals” to aspire to in principle if not always in fact.
The situation today is different I think, substantively so. As with so many of our institutions, even our habits, no one actually believes in the primacy of an ideal. Perhaps the most glaring symptom of this is the amount of energy spent denouncing the other side. When people gather with a guiding force they actually believe in, they focus on its accomplishment, not on pointing out the hypocrisy of their enemies. There are many other symptoms, but this one is left out of most such lists. It’s inconvenient. It puts the focus and the onus on “our” side.