Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How Should We Deal with the New Political Reality? The Way We Always Should.


We live in a divisive society. On one side are those who believe that all persons are responsible for their own lives, and that government has little or no role in providing for individuals. Under this view, often is the associated view that transfers of wealth from the successful (i.e., wealthy by means of high incomes or accumulated wealth) to those who are less successful, are unwarranted.

On the other side are those who see government as a solution for the problems in our society. Under this view, there are many who would continue or enact new government programs to address persons' needs.

Both views are right, and both are wrong. The truth lies in the middle.


The gulf between those who hold these opposing views has been broadened, in large part due to the influence of money in politics, the rise of "alternative" media "news" sources, and other factors.

Our legislators, both federal and state, increasingly abandon "statesmanship" and "bipartisanship" as they pay strict allegiance to the views of the leaders of their parties. Independent thought, and independent votes not aligned with their party, are usually subject to penalties. Rarely do Congressional leaders say, "Vote your conscience" - although the electorate would reasonably expect our elected representatives to vote their conscience each and every time.

Compromise is seen as a sign of weakness. Embracing proposals advanced by the other party - even those which are (in quiet circles) seen as wholly worthwhile - are viewed as acts of betrayal.

And, rather than seeing the role of the legislator as a temporary job, representing the "people" for a short time, legislators nearly always "play the game" and spend a great deal of their time raising funds for their own re-election, rather than working seriously on the problems of the day.


As one Administration has departed, and the new Administration has taken office, policies are enacted that seem like complete reversals (and sometimes they are). New appointees to important posts are advanced. New laws and regulations are proposed. And old laws and regulations are seen as needing abolishment.

How should we respond? Should, for example, Senate Democrats engage in wholesale obstructionism? No, even if - to a degree - the Senate Republicans did this in times past. For two wrongs don't make a right.

Rather, each and every issue confronting us - whether it be our legislators, other policy makers, or even each one of us - as individual Americans - should be met with a discerning eye.

First, determine the standard that should be applied.

For example, in the confirmation of a political appointee, should not the standard be something like ... Does the appointee possess the intelligence, the relevant experience, and the common sense to undertake the duties of this position? Also, has the appointment process proceeded appropriately, with the required disclosures provided, and with the necessary background check undertaken.

For new legislation, does the proposed law advance the interest of the people of the United States, over the long term?

Other standards likely exist, crafted and known to those knowledgeable about statesmanship.

Second, understand the views of the other side.

Who watches one news outlet, conservative or liberal, but not the other? Why, if you are a liberal, should you not watch Fox News - to seek to hear and to understand the other side? And why, if you are a conservative, should you not watch MSNBC - again to seek to hear and to understand the other side?

In teaching classes, and having discussions with my college students, I am amazed at how often their views are shaped from consumption of just one source of news and information, rather than seeking out the other points of view. Not to mention the importance of history. It is so important to seek out, and to understand, opposing views, lest your focus be too narrow, and your decisions ill-informed.

Third, take positions that are well-informed, and fear not compromise.

America does not have unlimited resources. Hence, government cannot become the solution for every need.

We must recognize, however, that some needs are pressing - and require government intervention. While other needs, while pressing, are ill-suited for government to address, and should be addressed through other means (such as charity, for example).

Let us, in this process, embrace the power of intellect, to evaluate alternative courses of action. To understand the motivations behind opposing views. To seek out, as best we can, the best solutions.

Fourth, eliminate the influence of money from our political processes.

Each and every lobbying organization, both conservative and liberal, should commit to devoting one-third of their resources to a Constitutional amendment that will forever remove the influence of money from our political processes. There are various alternative ways to proceed, and each proposal should be vetted through appropriate public discussion and debate.

And each of us should let it be known to the organizations that represent our views, that we request (no - demand) that they devote resources to this important effort. For America cannot function, as it was intended, under the influence of monied interests, whatever they may be.

Fifth, advocate strongly.

Advocate strongly for the views you hold dear. Provided, first, you have sought to understand the other side's positions, first.

Oppose openly strongly those acts and actions that you believe are untruthful, unnecessarily demeaning to others, immoral, or that otherwise violate the principles that you hold dear.

Yet, respect those with opposing views. For, I may abhor the individual who stands before me, shouting at the top of her or his lungs, a position that is diametrically opposed to the position that I, myself, have spent a lifetime advancing with all my passion and effort. Yet, I will, nevertheless, support at all times the right of that individual to so stand, and to so advocate.

We can disagree with each other's positions. We need not, in the process, need to question their motives, their intelligence, their wisdom, their sanity, or their moral compass. In short, we need not become disagreeable.

Yet, let not your own voice be silenced. In tumultuous times, now more than ever it is important for each one of us to exercise our rights as citizens, to identify and to promote those causes we hold dear, and to defend the principles upon which this country was founded.


This is not only our right, it is our duty. For America cannot continue to exist without the diligent and passionate engagement of its citizens. America continues as a great experiment - of freedom, of democracy, of enlightenment. America is hard work.

This duty we cannot shirk from, merely because we are depressed by recent happenings. Or joyous, for that matter. Instead, it is a duty that demands from us resilience, perseverance, and grit.

Let not America, and its shining beacon of light for the world, fail due to our own collective apathy.

Instead, make your own (reasoned, thoughtful) voice heard. Contact your legislative representatives, and let them know of the issues about which you are passionate, and of your views thereon. Participate in public gatherings that support the positions you hold dear.

Do all of these things, and believe that, in the end, we can and will together - all of us - make a better, stronger America. For ourselves. For all Americans. And for the world.

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