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The Citizen's Dilemma

Diane Feinstein is in trouble in California, because progressives believe she is too “middle of the road” and must be replaced by someone who will stand up to Republicans and oppose them on virtually everything. She is criticized for opposing Medicare for All and for voting for 11 of President Trump’s cabinet appointments, compared to progressives Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and others, who voted for four or less. At the same time, Steve Bannon is leading a movement to unseat any Republican who does not support President Trump completely or who continues to support Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority leader. The candidates Bannon suports are those who express not just Trump loyalty, but adherence to a nationalist, “America First” position that is compatible with white ethnic identity politics.

Barack Obama’s presidency was hampered by a Republican political establishment that opposed every issue the president supported. The Democratic response during Obama’s first term was to use their majority in congress to ram through legislation devoid of Republican input. During Obama’s second term, when the two houses of congress were held by Republicans, the president was forced to put measures in place using executive orders, which made them vulnerable to being overturned by his successor. During Trump’s first year, the legislative paralysis has not lifted, despite the Republicans holding both houses and the presidency. Tea-Party Republicans have opposed mainstream Republicans on health care and in almost all instances, Democrats and Republicans have failed to work together. The president, like his predecessor, has enacted measures using executive orders.

There is a breakdown in cooperative governing in Washington DC, which many Americans lament, but which the current widening gap between the two parties’ bases promises to extend. Beneath this breakdown in the ability to govern cooperatively is a philosophical and political gap between groups of grass roots Americans, or at least the most vocal and politically active of them. This gap is characterized by disparagement of both the views and the personalities of “the other side” in any disagreement, as well as insistence on non-cooperation as a sign of loyalty. Campus political discussions have devolved into rants by provocateurs and riots by those who oppose them. The media has become blatantly partisan with each side accusing the other of manufacturing news.

While dysfunction in both politics and in reasoned political discussion reigns, ordinary citizens are pushed to “take sides.” The political bases representing both the right and the left insist that not to oppose their enemy on every issue is to join them. The promise of this level of dysfunction is that not only will nothing constructive get done in this country, but that what works at the moment will fall apart as we become a political system unable to fix our own problems when they arise. There are many who claim that this is already the case and that the dysfunction in our criminal justice system, our economic system our healthcare and education systems is what requires a new approach to reorient the system around new principles. The problem is that the means to arrive at such new principles is fast disappearing because each side not only believes its principles are correct, but that compromise or discussion with the other side must be forbidden and when it occurs, punished. This attitude creates a dilemma that cannot be solved so long as it exists. Instead of looking for divisions that can be exploited, we, and our leaders should be seeking grounds of agreement on a shared vision for our country. To do that requires talking—and listening—to each other.

Reader Comments (2)

"The candidates Bannon supports are those who express not just Trump loyalty, but adherence to a nationalist, “America First” position that is compatible with white ethnic identity politics." Wow. An "America First" policy being compatible with white ethnic identity politics is like say that universal health care is compatible with radical Marxism. It's not the point and so what? The primary idea behind an "America First" policy is to benefit all American citizens before benefiting those who are not, regardless of immutable superficial factors.

"Campus political discussions have devolved into rants by provocateurs and riots by those who oppose them." The people that I've watched who have been labeled as "provocateurs" by the legacy media and other critics bring quite a bit of hard data and sometimes uncomfortable evidence to their talks. Those in opposition to these ideas seem incapable of engaging in either dialogue or debate in response. Speech suppression and violent actions seem to be the favored response by most who disagree with these speakers engaged in their "rants."

I entirely agree with your sentiment about talking and listening to each other. But I think in many ways, a significant segment of the population has tipped past the point of effective communication and common human decency. It seems to some degree that we are living on the earliest fringes of the second civil war or CWII. People are so deeply entrenched in political opinions that it rivals religious fervor and fanaticism. Someone you don't agree with politically is either a "libtard" or a "fascist." There isn't really anywhere to go from that point except to invalidate that person or ideology completely.

October 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

I admit that I find it difficult to find common ground with Bannon adherents. As I learned in my years as negotiator and grievance coordinator for my union, in order to come to any agreement you must find common ground. The problem, as I see it, is that we have people in power whose only hold on power is division and the fueling of hatred because they are a minority of the public. We need powerful counter-voices urging us to work together.

October 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

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