Democracy Wins: Hope for a Politics of Unity Over Division

America’s Founding Fathers had the wisdom to set up checks and balances between the three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. This balance of powers has served our country well over most of our history. But it came under severe assault under the presidency of Donald Trump; who made decisions as if he has unlimited power to do as he pleases to satisfy his own self-interests. At the same time, with few exceptions, a hyper-partisanship has flourished in the halls of Congress that has led to legislative gridlock. The result has been a frontal attack on the checks and balances needed to maintain a robust democracy that would have been fatal to the American Democratic experiment had it not been for the courageous public service of members of the judiciary; from both sides sides of the political aisle, who would not cave into the autocratic commitments of President Trump. Their meticulous commitment to the state and local laws governing election returns revealed the nonsense of President Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud. Although they were true to their callings as public servants without seeking applause, they are heroes who deserve our applause.

But this victory for democracy has a deeper dimension upon which we need to focus. It points to the possibility of a return to a way of doing politics that is centered on building unity rather than creating self-serving divisions.

I believe it is fair to judge that President Trump’s way of doing politics focused on creating divisions. Consider, for example, President Trump’s approach to NOT addressing the rampant racial inequities in America. From the earliest days of his presidency when he declared that there were “good people on both sides” of the protests in Charlottesville, he has played to the fears of white Americans that people of people of color will erode their white privilege, thus creating unbridgeable divisions between white Americans and Americans of color. In the process of doing so, he has created a stark asymmetry between how differing groups of Americans view constitutionally permitted protests over racial inequalities: The protests on those in the “Black Lives Matter” movement are viewed by a significant group of Americans as  inciters of violence, while another significant group of Americans view those who oppose the elements of the “Black Lives Matter” movement as “peaceful protestors,” with the result that nothing is done to address existing rampant racial inequalities,

This stark division among two major segments of American society that President Trump has sown is but one exemplification of the deeper problem with public discourse in America: tribalism; an us-versus-them mentality that holds that “those other folks” not only lack any understanding of the “truth” about the contentious issue at hand; they are downright evil and need to be demonized. Such tribalism is the inevitable result of the politics of division that has been consistently practiced by President Trump.

But I close these reflections with two rays of hope. First, President-Elect Biden has pledged to replace a politics of division with a politics of unity. Of course, time will tell whether that is possible. To his credit, Biden has refused to grovel in the mud with President Trump. A hopeful sign that creating a politics of unity may be possible is the splendid way in which a bipartisan cohort of legislators (the Problem Solvers Caucus) passed a second $908 billion pandemic relief bill.

My second ray of hope is that out of the current political chaos a new vision for the Republican Party will emerge that will reject the present “Trump” version; returning in some form to the meaning of Republicanism that characterized the Reagan era. In his splendid book We Should Have Seen It Coming, Gerald F. Seid notes the following three elements of Reaganesque Republicanism: limited government characterized by fiscal responsibility; welcoming of the immigrant; a foreign policy that promotes democracy around the world. All three of these emphases have been rejected by the present “Trump” version of Republicanism. It is my hope that after Trump’s tenure as president is over a group of Republican legislators will shape a new form of Republicanism that embraces these commitments. The most likely current Republican legislators who could focus on this task could include Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Adam Kinzinger (Illinois), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).