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The New President's Mandate

Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times (10/26/16), offered the opinion that a Hillary Clinton win, particularly a large one, could be considered a mandate for such values as the intolerability of sexism and for acceptance of the rights of all religions and races, as well as to “rise above and push back at the corrosive politics of insult.” While Buni referred to this as Clinton’s “resounding mandate,” it will only be so if she is elected by a wide margin. Even with a decisive win, the nation will be left divided, both on these very issues mentioned by Bruni and also on issues of immigration, entitlement, taxes, guns, criminal justice and a number of other things.

Clinton’s real mandate (or even Trump’s if he is elected) is in fact to govern in a way that addresses the wide divisions within our population. When Barack Obama was first elected, with a Democratic majority in both houses, his primary mission in his first term was to reform healthcare. With the aid of Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate, virtually all efforts by Republicans to modify the Democratic bills on healthcare reform were rebuffed and the eventual votes that lead to passage of the Affordable Care Act were strictly along partisan lines. This battle in Congress set the stage for an unbridgeable partisan divide on issue after issue (including repeated votes to repeal the ACA). When the Republicans achieved a majority in both houses, they paid the Democrats back in spades, refusing to cooperate with the president on nearly every bill and even threatening to shut down the government by not approving the presidential budget.

The next president, who will probably be Hillary Clinton, will, no matter what the margin of victory, lead a polarized nation. Those at the extremes of the polarities will continue to agitate for positions that brook no compromise: from one side, no trade deals period, immediate closure of Guantanamo, freezing the military budget, complete prohibition of fracking, censure and defunding of Israel. From the other side,  no increased taxes on the wealthy, repeal, not revision of the ACA, an end to admittance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and no increase in gun laws. These positions are not only polarizing, but also mostly not achievable, at least early in the term of the next president.

On the left in America there is a perception that the established political system is not only broken, but that it is evil, controlled by corporate interests, committed to a neo-liberal interventionist foreign policy and completely willing to sacrifice the environment for profits. From the right, there is an agreement that corporate interests control government policies, but also a belief that the government is trying to take over all aspects of people’s lives, remove private gun ownership, redistribute hard-earned wages so that they go to the unworking or undocumented poor. The extremes, extending well into the center of the left and right, simply don’t believe that government does or even can serve their interests any longer.

The new president’s mandate must be to make a sincere attempt to lead by healing this massive divide in our country. At every level of interaction, from Twitter and Facebook posts, to media talking heads discussions, to editorials, to political statements by not only the major parties but also the minor ones, to coffee shop and bar chatter, the tone heard is one of  a lack of a willingness to compromise. Within the groups that make up the far left and right, the idea of compromise on any of the issues dear to them is tantamount to betrayal or cowardice. The tactics used to promote their positions do not allow compromise. When their tactics (trying to “shut down” those who say things they object to, or interfering with government, corporate, or just normal activities such as driving on highways, or displaying guns at public events, or opposing all measures proposed by the other side, or questioning the patriotism of those who protest) arouse ire and disgust in their opponents, they feel they have achieved a victory. They may be winning battles, but mostly to reinforce the solidarity of their own side, however they are losing the war concerning breaking down the barriers that prevent our country from making progress using democratic methods.

There are pressing issues that will face the new president from the day she (or he) is elected. What do we do about ISIS, about Syria, about Russia, about our still failing healthcare system, about the racial divide in the criminal justice system, about trade and jobs and about the large segment of our population that continues to live in poverty? There are sharply liberal and sharply conservative answers to each of these issues. The divided American people will demand the president conform to their interests on these issues and reject the interests of their opponents. The issues are extremely important, but more important is leading by example and making compromises, looking for ways to offer validation for competing points of view when it does not entail losing one’s moral compass, striking deals that will lead to reciprocal quid pro quos in the future.

No one will applaud a president who compromises. But only half the people will applaud one who doesn’t and then no doubt will still accuse her (or him) of not going far enough. The new president must be strong enough and skilled enough to weather such criticism and try to bring the country together.

It wouldn’t hurt if the American people got behind this goal themselves.

Reader Comments (1)

It would be good if the harsh opposition between parties could pass away somewhat with the end of the campaigns. I don't know how much peace we as citizens can make between members of our government, but history shows that when enough people want there government to do something, sooner or later it gets accomplished. Getting rid of the hostile dialogue and intractable stances on some of the issues is probably a good start, as you said. Willingness to listen to the other side's reasoning might not change many people's minds, but it can definitely help the parties to clash less and move forward in some of these areas. There has to be a point where our reps stop blocking each other and agree that some progress, some attempt to make change, is better than gridlock.

October 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert L.

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