Po­lit­i­cal di­vide threat­ens us all

Repub­lic di­min­ished by petty par­ti­san­ship

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - WOODY BAS­SETT Woody Bas­sett is a life­long Fayet­teville res­i­dent and a lo­cal at­tor­ney. Email him at wbas­sett@bas­set­t­law­firm.com.

Our coun­try is much bet­ter than this. And all of us are, too. How have we let our­selves be­come so sharply di­vided? Why can’t the na­tion’s busi­ness be con­ducted in a con­struc­tive and much less par­ti­san man­ner? Why so much ha­tred and vit­riol? Where is the ci­vil­ity and re­spect­ful­ness we use to ex­pect in our pub­lic dis­course? When did com­pro­mise be­come a sup­posed sign of weak­ness in­stead of a val­ued tenet and an es­sen­tial tool in our democ­racy? When did we lose sight of the fact we do our best when we do some­thing to­gether?

Ex­treme par­ti­san­ship, of­ten ju­ve­nile and car­toon­ish in na­ture, is dam­ag­ing Amer­ica and jeop­ar­diz­ing our fu­ture. It’s split­ting us apart po­lit­i­cally and in other un­told ways, mak­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble for us to con­front head-on the ma­jor is­sues and real prob­lems im­pact­ing the life of the av­er­age cit­i­zen in our coun­try.

Who is win­ning this par­ti­san fight? None of us. Who is los­ing this par­ti­san fight? All of us.

In a repub­lic like ours where ul­ti­mate power is held by the peo­ple and their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and an elected pres­i­dent, some con­flict and hon­est dis­agree­ments are to be ex­pected. But the in­ten­sity and es­ca­la­tion of par­ti­san war­fare we’ve wit­nessed in the past 25 years of­ten makes it seem we are no longer ca­pa­ble of unit­ing against a com­mon en­emy, whether for­eign or do­mes­tic. Re­gard­less of our own po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, each of us is first and fore­most an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen with some mea­sure of in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity to strive for the na­tion’s com­mon good.

With the coun­try cur­rently led by per­haps the most po­lar­iz­ing pres­i­dent in our his­tory, we have a lead­er­ship cri­sis in Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. But the pres­i­dent isn’t the only prob­lem. The Re­pub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties also share a siz­able por­tion of the blame for the po­lar­iza­tion, paral­y­sis and dys­func­tion we ob­serve on a daily ba­sis in Wash­ing­ton. Blind al­le­giance to party and the pro­longed ab­sence of mean­ing­ful bi­par­ti­san­ship in Wash­ing­ton has left many be­liev­ing that our gov­ern­ment is no longer ca­pa­ble of ra­tio­nally ad­dress­ing the mul­ti­ple chal­lenges fac­ing our coun­try or mak­ing a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence in our lives.

Too many, Re­pub­li­can and Demo­crat alike, put their po­lit­i­cal party be­fore their coun­try. For some, it’s only about be­ing in or out. Too many dis­tort the truth and en­gage in bla­tant hypocrisy. Too many are un­will­ing to seek and forge com­pro­mise or to sum­mon the courage to cast a vote they know would be un­pop­u­lar with their party’s base but one they know would be in the best in­ter­ests of the coun­try. Too many have for­got­ten that do­ing the right thing for the col­lec­tive fu­ture of the Amer­i­can peo­ple is more honor­able and im­por­tant than get­ting re-elected.

With scant hope of a vi­able third-party emerg­ing, we find our­selves spin­ning our wheels in an em­bed­ded two-party sys­tem. Most peo­ple yearn for both of our po­lit­i­cal par­ties to stand for some se­ri­ous and big things but not be so nar­row and ide­o­log­i­cal as to pre­clude com­pro­mise and the pur­suit of sen­si­ble solutions. And most wish it didn’t look like our po­lit­i­cal par­ties and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers were bought by vast sums of money from donors and spe­cial in­ter­est groups.

Di­vi­sive slo­gans like “make Amer­ica great again” or “let’s take back our coun­try” may be catchy in the sound­bite age we now live in, but they are just empty words. The United States is still the great­est coun­try on earth and will re­main so if those with the man­tle of lead­er­ship will act re­spon­si­bly and du­ti­fully. And no po­lit­i­cal party will ever “take” the coun­try from their fel­low ci­ti­zens be­cause our coun­try be­longs to all of us, no mat­ter what our per­sonal be­liefs are.

Al­most ev­ery­one these days pro­fesses to be mad about some­thing go­ing on in the coun­try and un­for­tu­nately far too many are re­luc­tant to be around peo­ple who dis­agree with them. Those who agree with their fa­vored po­lit­i­cal party on ev­ery­thing might want to ask them­selves if that means they aren’t do­ing enough think­ing on their own. Democ­racy works if we want it to but it won’t if we stop lis­ten­ing to each other and con­stantly de­mo­nize each other. None of us are right all the time but even if we think we are com­pro­mise is vi­tally nec­es­sary if we want to get things done.

Here’s some wise ad­vice from Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School: “We need to re­turn to what were once core val­ues in pol­i­tics. We should fight, and fight hard, for what we be­lieve. But even as we do bat­tle, it’s cru­cial to rec­og­nize the best in the other side and the worst in your own.”

We have to get be­yond this “Us ver­sus Them” if we want our coun­try to be the best it can be and all it can be.

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