Regardless of the outcome of the election on November 8, what on earth are we going to do about our national government?
What, in fact, are we going to do about this country?
Like many Americans, I live in and work in a bubble, among friends, co-workers, and neighbors who are pretty much like me. A blue-city, blue-state bubble, in my case, dominated by Hillary Clinton supporters.
And a fair number of my friends have related the same experience recently: discovering that someone they thought they knew well – someone with whom they thought they had a lot in common – is a Trump supporter. “I just don’t understand them,” my friends say.
Me, either. And I’d bet that Trump supporters don’t understand me.
We are a severely divided country. The division cuts predominantly along education, class, and geographic lines, sure, but it’s evident everywhere. And it’ll prevent us from working together to solve very serious problems – locally and nationally. It’ll take working together to overcome the economic inequality that is wasting our human and financial resources. We’ll have to work together to address the climate changes that threaten the planet. We’ll have to work together if we’re to serve as partners in a world challenged by war and poverty.
And as scary as the prospect of a Trump presidency is, a Clinton presidency won’t heal those divisions. They’ll continue to be acted out in national politics.
If we had any doubt about that, it was washed away last week when John McCain announced that if Hillary Clinton is elected, Republicans won’t vote on anyone she nominates for the Supreme Court.
For at least four years.
Clinton supporters may find hope in polls showing that Democrats might take control of the Senate. But a few-vote majority won’t be enough to keep Republicans from filibustering Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. Under Senate rules, Supreme Court nominations require 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. I haven’t seen any polls suggesting a Democratic Senate win that large. And the Washington Post noted on Sunday that a Democratic majority would likely last only two years. In 2018, 25 Democratic senators’ seats will be up for election, compared to only 8 Republicans’ – and the Democrats will face an uphill battle in many of them.
“You see where this is all headed,” New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore wrote the day after McCain’s pledge. “We are on the brink of a new era in which bipartisanship is functionally dead and divided partisan control of the federal government keeps anything significant from happening. That is significant not for the reasons we so often hear — the demise of those wonderful days when the good old boys of both parties got together over drinks and cut deals without regard to party or ideology — but because divided government is the rule more often than it is the exception in our system.”
The source of that division is not, as some people have suggested, simply a rigged political system. Yes, Republicans have capitalized on the division, gerrymandering election districts to get more influence than they would have otherwise. Democrats have gerrymandered, too. But the parties didn’t create the division. The division, among people who love their country and are concerned about its future, is real.
We can point fingers at politicians all we like, but that won’t solve the problem. This is a representative democracy. The politicians are people we elected. Money has an outsized influence, to be sure, but we are not sheep. Well-funded special interests can shape opinion, but they didn’t invent the fears and hopes and prejudices and preferences that divide us. They have merely played to them.
And unless average citizens like us find a way to understand each other, to work together despite our differences, we’ll continue to be the divided nation we are right now, in Congress and at home.
Is change possible? Given the mistrust and vitriol of the presidential campaign, that job looks formidable.
Well, where do we go from here?