Tomorrow is election day. I sincerely hope that everyone will vote. Nearly half of all Americans do not and that is truly a travesty. With regard to this election Jim Grant a former Barrons financial writer puts it nicely when he says, “what is truly depressing is the doleful realization that … one of them (Trump or Clinton) will win.”
I couldn’t agree more. But here’s the thing and it is comes from Howard Dean, the Vermont Democrat who ran for President in 2004, “you can’t run the country as divided as it is today. And you can’t govern with just 55% of the country.”
It won’t matter who wins if the moderates, the centrists as I would say, cannot regain a preeminent position within the politics of both parties. That is, statesmanship must triumph over partisanship.
Think about it; we have Senators Warren and Sanders pushing hard for a more liberal agenda when even the Washington Post notes that the party, “already has very progressive positions in the … platform.
Across the isle, the Freedom Coalition is already talking about impeaching Mrs. Clinton if she wins. Some in that same group are not satisfied with Paul Ryan’s leadership. Hard-liners,“want to see the House GOP take an uncompromising stance on spending cuts and immigration with no room for negotiation.”
Many of these representatives, both left and right come from districts where the electorate fully supports their positions and thus they are ‘safe’. As the Washington Post notes, “That dynamic gives them license to adopt a take no prisoners form of politics antithetical to the political finesses typically required to pass legislation.”
Instead of a Nation and its leaders focused on consensus building we are surrounded by Trump supporters chanting, “Lock her up!” as well as Clinton supporters who want to leave the country if Trump is elected.
As a nation we have become caught up in a fight or flight mentality that, left unchecked, will only further exacerbate partisanship as well as the ills of the country. The fact of the matter is that we must all live together and to do that effectively we must govern in a manner that enables us to get along and make decisions built upon consensus rather than from obstreperousness.
Otherwise we are at great risk. Karen Stenner is a political psychologist who studies, “the people who express an outsize share of political, racial and moral intolerance,” that is, the people who make up the far left and right. While these people have very different political views psychologically they are reacting to one, “immutable characteristic: They are inclined to want oneness and sameness.” When they feel that is the case she notes that they are relatively tolerant. “But, when their need for unity is threatened, as is inevitable in … democracies, they lash out.” The more diverse the world becomes, the more intolerant the left and right become. That leads to an unwillingness to compromise. Eventually, that destroys democracies.
Undoubtedly, rapid change only serves to heighten the stress for these same individuals. Yet we live in a world of incredibly rapid change. I was struck by an article written by a New York Times reporter who came back to America after serving 13 years abroad. In 2003 when he left, “George W. Bush stood beneath a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner on an aircraft carrier …. Facebook hadn’t yet been turned into a company. The IPhone did not exist …. (He) missed the Great Recession,” and Brad and Angelina were still an item.
To that point, ISIS wasn’t a word in 2003. It would be three years before Twitter even began. More importantly, Americans had no idea that economic growth, jobs and wages were going to virtually stagnate for the next 13 years resulting in a populist movement that career politicians never saw coming. Pat Buchanan, an earlier Republican insurgent, who ran for President said recently, “I look around the world and I think all those countries are coming apart and I think ours is going to come apart. The melting pot is not melting anymore.”
I believe it is that last sentence that represents the overwhelming issue facing American politics today. Our nation is changing so rapidly demographically, racially and technologically that it has created a sense of fear in the body politic. But, when our internal fight or flight mechanism is forced to operate 24/7 for an extended period of time we can become afraid of fear itself. That is, we lose our sense of perspective.
That, in my opinion, is what has happened within American politics today. Nevertheless, it is instructive to note that American politics have always been rough and tumble. In 1798 Federalist Senator Rodger Griswold and Republican Congressman Matthew Lyon duked it out on the Senate floor with a can and a fireplace tong! In 1805 two Republicans set the record for the longest fist fight in the House lobby … it went on for 77 minutes! President Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton brawled and Jackson was shot …. Benton, the older of the two, “escaped significant injury because he fell down a flight of stairs early in the fight.” Even as late as 1945 two House Democrats fought when Missouri Congressman John Rankin was called a liar by Frank “Fighting Frank” Hook. Surprisingly Rankin even got some jabs in despite the fact that Hook was a former welterweight champion of Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.
For us to regain our sense of perspective we must learn to work together again; to find comprise again; to be statesman like in our thoughts and behavior and not just in Congress but in the nation as a whole.
For that to happen the political center of both parties must once again find its voice.
Let’s face it, living together is never easy and political reconciliations are even more difficult than marital ones. But, it can be done, if our leadership moves slowly and deliberately working around some issues of importance where consensus can be developed, voted upon and passed into law. It’s like taking baby steps to regain our ability to to work together. We might begin with infrastructure where both parties recognize modernization is necessary. That will also create jobs and good wages.
Our new President would be well served to recognize that rather than focusing on a divisive first step as President Obama did with ObamaCare, it would be far better to make their first step a cohesive one that enabled both parties to work together effectively.
Jane Jacobs, a journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies wrote, “in her comparative study of fallen empires,” that there are certain, “common indicators of decline: cultural xenophobia, self imposed isolation and a shift from faith in reason with its future oriented spirit to looking backwards to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.”
Leadership, both Presidential and Congressional, might take a page from investment theory that recognizes fully ninety percent of returns come from proper asset allocation otherwise known as diversification. It recognizes the simple premise that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, be they Democratic or Republican ones.
In other words, let’s begin a discourse that takes into consideration both parties thoughts and opinions in formulating public policy. We’ve already shown how we can put Social Security on a sound financial footing without harming anyone’s benefits. Even my very conservative friends can live with those suggestions. I’m sure that they wouldn’t be the exact ones Congress would pick but the point is that by tackling issues that need fixing and doing so in a bipartisan manner we can begin the process of returning American politics to statesmanship rather than internecine warfare.
As Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic Magazine, “counteracting polarization is not a lost cause, if only Americans are circumspect enough to recognize what we have in common.” Our American identity has always been about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We can achieve that if we once again begin to work together as a team, albeit one with a diversity of opinions all of which need to be heard and considered in formulating our way forward towards consensus rather than a strong right hook!