One of the things that distresses me the most about today’s political climate is hyperpartisanship and the lack of respect for differences of opinion. This manifests itself in many ways. Both the Left and the Right have their partisans that try to apply an ideological purity test to try to get people to agree 100% with them on all the various issues. You hear about extremist conservatives who decry Republicans who are willing to have a different opinion or are willing to compromise as being RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. We see a similar thing in the Left, as some progressives decry more moderate Democrats as being DINOs, or Democrats In Name Only. I think this rigid sort of thinking is dangerous for America, as it creates a groupthink mentality where independence of thought is stifled. In order for our democratic republic to succeed, we need to respect and protect everyone’s right to disagree and have their own independent mind.
I am a liberal Democrat. But I realize that most people are not as liberal as me. Most people that I know are not purely progressive or purely conservative in their views on various issues. In the area where I live, most individuals are liberal on some issues, conservative in other issues. When I was growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, there were still liberal and moderate Republicans, as well as conservative and moderate Democrats. Liberals like Ted Kennedy were able to collaborate with conservatives like Orrin Hatch on bills like The Americans With Disabilities Act, the Ryan White Act, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, because there were enough moderates in both parties where common ground could be found.
As the decades have passed and the Republican Party has become more uniformly conservative and the Democratic Party has become more uniformly liberal, there was less common ground between the two parties to collaborate to pass laws. The Democratic Party was more diverse than the Republican Party during the early Obama years with the Blue Dog Democrats in the Democratic Party. But when many of these Blue Dog Democrats lost their seats to the Tea Party Republicans in 2010, it had the effect of making the Republican Party much more conservative and the Democratic Party much more liberal. The moderates who acted as a check-and-balance from the extremes of the Left and Right in the two political parties are no longer there.
As a liberal, I want the political center to be pushed in a more leftward direction. But I also want the Democratic Party to be a big tent of diverse views so that it reflects the diverse views of this nation. Over the past 2 decades, I’ve observed that if the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress consist of only liberals and conservatives, there is not enough common ground between the two groups to find compromise to pass any meaningful legislation that addresses the important issues that this nation faces. Gridlock becomes inevitable.
This situation is being made much worse with the arrival of Donald Trump on the political scene and the efforts of Steve Bannon to remake the Republican Party into a more explicitly white nationalist party. In his time as a President, Trump has purposely focused his various tweets and statements on issues that exacerbate the divisions in our country and is tearing at the social fabric of our nation. His direct appeals to the prevailing prejudices of the Republican base and his scapegoating of Muslims, immigrants, African Americans and other vulnerable groups have greatly increased the polarization in this country.
Steve Bannon’s attempts to remake the Republican Party to be more pliant to Trump’s demagoguery is dangerous to decent Republicans, to Democrats and to the nation. Bannon has supported extreme candidates like Roy Moore to challenge mainstream Republicans for Senate races in 2018. Roy Moore believes that Muslims cannot serve in Congress because he thinks Islam is incompatible with the Constitution, called homosexuality “abhorrent, immoral, detestable … a crime against nature,” and believes that his brand of fundamentalist Christian theology should have more force in the laws of this country rather than the U.S. Constitution.
One of the things that has given me some hope are individual Republicans who are speaking out against Trump’s combative rhetoric and have called for a return to an environment of collaboration between the two political parties in the Congress. I’m glad to hear Democratic leaders speak out, but I feel that they are preaching to the choir. It’s important for Republicans to start speaking out, because they have the best chance of breaking the conservative bubble that the Republican voters are in and might actually be listened to.
When Senator John McCain returned to the Senate after undergoing surgery, he said in a speech:
I’ve known and admired men and women in the Senate who played much more than a small role in our history, true statesmen, giants of American politics. They came from both parties, and from various backgrounds. Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on the issues of the day. And they often had very serious disagreements about how best to serve the national interest.
But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries…
…Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours.
Considering the injustice and cruelties inflicted by autocratic governments, and how corruptible human nature can be, the problem solving our system does make possible, the fitful progress it produces, and the liberty and justice it preserves, is a magnificent achievement.
Our system doesn’t depend on our nobility. It accounts for our imperfections, and gives an order to our individual strivings that has helped make ours the most powerful and prosperous society on earth. It is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning.’ Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts manage just three yards and a cloud of dust, while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to ‘triumph.’
I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.
Senator Jeff Flake said an extraordinary speech denouncing President Trump’s personal insults and polarizing speech, and asked his fellow Republicans to return to the democratic norms of collaboration and compromise. In his speech, Senator Flake said:
We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.
None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.
Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.
And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness…
…It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.
There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal — but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.
We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.
This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a heathy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does.
When I watched Senator Flake’s speech on youtube, it reminded me of another speech that a Republican delivered sixty years ago against another demagogue. On June 1, 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered a speech denouncing McCarthyism with Senator Joe McCarthy sitting only a few feet away from her. At the time, Senator McCarthy was leading a campaign of smears and blacklisting of liberals and leftists under the guise of fighting a communist threat. McCarthy’s campaign undermined the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of thought of many Americans who dared to have their own independent point of view.
Senator Smith saw the danger that McCarthy’s tactics posed to our nations democratic values. Senator Smith said:
I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.
Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:
The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in…
…I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.
I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.
I don’t want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.