Three weeks – and counting – on a partial federal government shutdown that’s at least tied for the longest one on record in U.S. history. But that dubious distinction is a mere symptom of a much larger problem that has been brewing for decades, though some may argue centuries.
Our two-party political system has been seriously impaired by a culture war pitting so-called social-justice warriors on the left against make-America-great-again foot soldiers on the right. Democrats and Republicans alike have waged long-fought internal battles over the heart and soul of their respective public-policy platforms. And extreme elements on both sides of the political aisle are shouting past one another without listening or negotiating in good faith.
The resulting stalemate isn’t really about border security and safe communities. It’s about gamesmanship and scoring political victories. It’s not about fulfilling promises to constituents. It’s about obstructing the other side. It’s not about governing within reason. It’s about advancing a baseline cynicism that passes for acceptable political strategy in a blood sport built on opposition research each time there’s a so-called free election.
In short, it’s disgusting. In times like these, I’m relieved to have long been a registered independent voter leery of both established political parties, but I’m also deeply embarrassed to be an American. We’re better than this as a country – much better. We’re the best example of governance in world history, albeit far from perfect and certainly mired in serious social ills, but we now struggle in simple conversations with those with whom we disagree.
There’s no longer any civility or mutual respect, nor are there any Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neill-style summits where we can agree to disagree, strike important political compromises somewhere between opposing positions and then grab a brew together afterward at our favorite local pub.
Instead, we let perfectly good friendships wither on the vine and allow philosophical differences to tear apart our own families. It’s about us vs. them. This is the new normal from both a political and sociological standpoint.
The fact is, it’s unconscionable that the Democrats and Republicans we elected to Congress and the White House are incapable of solving this problem. Both parties are to blame. It’s not that hard to meet halfway. That’s how nations govern. Is it so important to be right all the time that it’s acceptable to bolt the office door for millions of civil servants and prevent lawmakers from actually passing laws?
This has to end. I’m not sure exactly how that happens, but if we all want to move forward as the United States (the former being the operative word), then we have to tone down the heated rhetoric on both sides, find common ground and live the Golden Rule in every conversation we have, whether it’s with a high-ranking government official, business associate, your spouse, sibling, child, friend or acquaintance.
Only then can we have a fighting chance to continue competing on the world stage and set an admirable example for everyone else to follow.