The impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump highlights, sadly, the deep divisions in our nation, not just in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, or between Democrats and Republicans, but deep divisions in basic beliefs, behavior, and trust. It may be hard to pinpoint exactly when those divisions began. Democracy, by its nature, is ever evolving and changing with the times. One huge change was 100 years ago, when women secured the right to vote. The Great Depression brought significant economic changes and new laws, followed quickly by World War II, which validated this nation’s commitment to freedom and democratic ideals.
A re-reading of earlier American history also indicates that political campaigns could be just as free-wheeling and negative as they are today, but once the campaign was over, the winners had to exercise governance — for the broader public good. In mid-century America, party identification was important, but sometimes it was just a D or R after one’s name, not a rigid rule that colored all political decisions. In the Congress of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Members of Congress worked together to advance policies that literally united, rather than divided, the nation. One example is the Interstate Highway System, a signature policy of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. When some Democrats opposed the Republican president’s proposal, others worked to arrange different sources of funding, a compromise that gained favor and led to transportation connections that we use every day in this region, and around the country.
How can we get back to a more moderated approach to governance that addresses the broader public good, and provides solutions to challenges, both identified and unknown? A significant amount of ego drives elective politics but, once the campaign is over, the hard work of governance begins, and that requires collaboration and cooperation, along with a hefty dose of leadership, not ego. Respecting, not demonizing, opposing views, and working toward a middle ground for workable solutions, should not be characterized as failure. “Winner take all” may be understandable for a victorious Super Bowl team, but good governance is not football.
Good governance does require team effort. Good governance relies on differing points of view to help craft eventual solutions. It relies on the rule of law and the democratic processes that level the playing field. Issuing multiple Executive Orders is not governance; rather, it’s an indication of a demagogue undermining the political and social processes that used to be held dear. Good governance depends on a variety of partners — and that’s all of us. We don’t always have to agree, but we do have to show respect. We don’t all have to win, but we need to ensure that the “game” is played fairly, with the same rules applying to all.
The Trump impeachment trial will be concluded by the time this column is published, but the deep divisions will not. It will take sustained leadership at many levels to get off this destructive dystopian path, and back onto a wider trail that accommodates everyone.