When I was talking with people at the DFL forum at Fond du Lac Community College about Enbridge Energy and the actions of our Environmental Protection Agency and its leader, Scott Pruitt, I got to thinking about President Trump’s insistence he was going to “Drain the Swamp” when he got to Washington.
Dissatisfaction with Government/Poor Leadership is at an all-time high and the issue that matters most to American voters, according to a new Gallup organization survey. Our leaders in Washington give us fresh examples of ineffective leadership on our behalf each and every day; Scott Pruitt is just the latest example. As of this writing, his days on the President’s Cabinet may soon be over – and, rightfully so. His abuses in office are scandalous even for the Trump administration.
How did we get here – and is there a way out? Before I answer that, let’s first look at what some Members of Congress who are leaving office have had to say upon announcing their retirement.
“I think what matters in Congress is finding a group and then validating or ratifying what they already believe. I like jobs where facts matter, I like jobs where fairness matters. I don’t see that in our current modern political environment.” – Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R) SC
“The political center is collapsing. What I've found is that we have become enormously polarized here in Congress, and that polarization has led to a paralysis.” – Rep. Charlie Dent, (R) PA
“There just is no market for being one to compromise. And until voters will value that again, we're going to have the problems that we do today. There's just no reward for governing right now. – Sen. Jeff Flake (R) AZ
Those are Republicans; the party that holds the White House and both branches of Congress. Already, 38 House Republicans have announced they are retiring. Republican leadership has announced it has a problem. While midterm elections are historically tough for the party of the President in power, it's too early to tell how things will unfold this year. But seats are opening up all over – just as one has here in our 8th District.
In his retirement announcement, Rep. Rick Nolan said, “Despite the fact that our nation is being challenged by some rather troubling politics, let’s remember that our founders foresaw difficult times and gave us the tools to see them through. Our constitution is strong, our people are resilient, and the elections of 2018, 2020 and beyond provide continuing opportunities for progress, reform and necessary change.”
All of us – Democrat, Republican, Trump supporter, Trump critic – should be able to agree that our democracy is in need of repair. Whatever side you were on in the 2016 election, the campaign brought our divisions front and center. This would have been the case no matter who won.
A few months ago, the Washington Post asked dozens of conservative and liberal writers to look beyond the day-to-day party struggles and propose one idea that could help fix our American democracy. https://wapo.st/2GLkJBG Several of their suggestions are worthy of consideration:
I was criticized recently for suggesting that we needed more compromise in Washington – not less. When I suggested our elected representatives needed to spend more time talking to one another and less time on the phone begging for money, some called that naïve. Well, let me just say something you might have heard during last year’s campaign: “What have we got to lose?”
Like it or not, Donald Trump captured the imagination of enough American voters to win, and the Democratic Party and progressives have become anxious or depressed. Some of us have engaged in various form of activism, but we must do more.
Key to our future in this 8th District is to recognize that while we once recorded large victories throughout the region, we now have counties that vote 70% or more Republican. We can turn the tide by presenting an alternative to Donald Trump, by addressing the life experiences, the sense of losing ground among those who began to feel like a stranger in their own land. Trump voters saw Democrats as beholden to corporate and special interests – just like the Republicans.
We can’t turn things around unless we get out the vote. Those of us who live in liberal areas need to reach out to those who reside in regions or belong to groups very different from our own. We might disagree, but it is important we get to know them and important for them to know we’re as uncomfortable being labeled as they are. A Pew Research study last year found that nearly half of Hillary Clinton supporters had no close friends who were Trump supporters.
I know there are liberal pundits who argue we need to hold on to our anger. I don’t think we need to worry about that. I also know that I’m not about to confuse any potential alliance with the other side as surrender, nor will I consider empathy for their plight as weakness.
Six million voters who chose President Obama in 2012 switched to Donald Trump in 2016. We need to be talking to them. We do agree on quite a few issues: getting money out of politics, rebuilding our infrastructure, reducing our prison populations, expanding renewable energy, the need for a better healthcare system, and several more crossover topics.
Some see hope in the more than 70 grassroots groups that have risen across the country, attracting several million supporters. Groups such as Living Room Conversations, Bridge Alliance, Common Good, Better Angels, American Public Square and AllSides.
We need to create new ways to bridge our differences. Some might say I’m naïve and dreaming, but when will we begin to address the issues and questions that bitterly divide us if not now? Will we continue to drift away from democracy? Will the American Dream be an unfulfilled dream?
Crossing the partisan divide and political aisle will not resolve the crisis we face in America – not right away. But it could help us to begin to slowly rebuild our country, to really begin draining the swamp so that no American need ever feel like they’re a stranger or that no one is listening to them.
Robert Kennedy often talked about the role of government in bringing people together, including these words: “We can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.