Political divide threatens us all
Republic diminished by petty partisanship
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.