Are we seeing a thaw in our polarized politics?

In Politics
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Democrats and Republicans are farther apart than ever, each side pulled by its ideologically most extreme elements. “Compromise” has been demonized while partisanship has been raised above fidelity to the Constitution and concern for the common good. Hyper-partisanship is self-reinforcing, alienating moderates and driving an insurmountable barrier between red and blue, progressive and conservative. Each side self-segregates in its own community, listens to its own news and becomes convinced that the other side is, bluntly put, nuts.

That’s unfortunately the new normal in American politics; both sides agree it’s happening and each blames the other. President Trump cleverly capitalized on our angry, fractured and paralyzed politics — but he is now a victim of it as well. His achievements to date are limited to one Supreme Court justice, a sanctions bill he signed against his will and some regulatory rollbacks.

Are we doomed to repeat the cycle of gridlock-demagogue-gridlock-new demagogue? There are some small signs of hope amidst the gloom. Let me point to four.

First, led by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), governors of both parties are trying to forge compromise on health-care reform focused on stabilizing the individual health insurance market. Appearing together on Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Kasich and Hickenlooper pointed to a spirit of cooperation that might extend beyond health care:

KASICH: Although we have governors that get very partisan as well. But at the end, the American people want things to function. And they can function. If you don’t worry about which party gets the credit or which politician gets the credit, it can work. Now, I can’t guarantee you that Hickenlooper and I are going to agree on this, but I’m hopeful.

And we’re going to do our very best to come up with something, then spread it out wider. Here is a final thing. If you want to solve problems, whether it’s immigration or whether it’s the issue of health care, you’ve got to grow your majority from the- from the middle out. You’ve got to exclude those who are on the edges because they’re disruptors and not in a positive way in many cases. You’ve got to grow it this way. And that’s how you get things done. . . .

JOHN DICKERSON: Governor Hickenlooper, are there other issues on which governors can work together like this, what you’re trying to do on health care?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Sure. Almost anything. I mean, look at all the major challenges. Look at the need to reinvent the way we do workforce training. We have- you know, two thirds of our kids are never going to get a four-year college degree. And we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where, you know, the new generation of jobs require some technical capability.

We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at, you know, all kinds of internships. That’s the kind of thing that Republicans and Democrats could work on together. Go down the list. All the economic development work, it’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue to say, “We want better jobs for our kids,” or, “We want to make sure that they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming- beginning to appear.”

Second, the 40-plus House “Problem Solvers Caucus” (sadly, that’s only about 10 percent of a 435-person body whose purpose is problem-solving) is also working on health care.

Rep. Tom Reed, who represents much of New York’s Southern Tier, and first-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer, lead a revamped House “Problem Solvers Caucus.” The caucus aims to do what more prominent politicians have tried and failed to do.

The Problem Solvers want to solve problems – the biggest one of all being the inability of Congress to get much of anything done.

While they haven’t solved anything yet, the Problems Solvers last week introduced a modest plan to fix Obamacare’s most pressing troubles. In doing so, they won laudatory editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post and paved a path for senators who actually might accomplish something on health care this fall.

They hope to move beyond health care. (“Reed said he foresees the group weighing in on the huge issues that could make September an especially perilous time on Capitol Hill: meeting a deadline for the budget and spending bills, along with legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling so the government can continue paying its bills.”)

In an op-ed in the Gottheimer and Reed wrote:

That approach has led us to our current moment, in which no one is happy with the status quo, least of all the American people, whose trust and confidence in Washington weakens every day that we spend fighting instead of solving real problems.

Health care is one of those problems — and a textbook example of why we formed the Problem Solvers Caucus this year. We all knew the partisanship in Washington had gotten out of control and felt the need to create a bipartisan group committed to getting to “yes” on important issues. We have agreed to vote together for any policy proposal that garners the support of 75 percent of the entire Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as 51 percent of both the Democrats and Republicans in the caucus.

If Washington does not act to stabilize the insurance exchanges, many families we represent will lose coverage or be hit with premiums they can’t afford. This isn’t conjecture.
If that does happen, people will be justifiably livid that Republicans and Democrats in Congress did nothing to stop a train wreck we all saw coming.

They concede that the proposal is not a cure-all but argue that “it represents the first and only serious bipartisan health care proposal released in this Congress. We hope our colleagues in the House and Senate, as well as the White House, will use our plan as the foundation for the health care solution that America desperately needs and deserves.”

Third, as , two different bipartisan groups have proposed legislation to ensure that the president does not fire the special counsel. For Republicans, it is a matter of protecting the president from himself; for Democrats, it’s a way of preventing Trump and his team from getting away with the “fake news” accusation designed to discredit the investigation. Even if no legislation passes, these efforts have already served as a powerful warning to the president that firing Mueller would trigger severe consequences, including possible impeachment.

Fourth, the recently passed bill to apply tough new sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran passed by a 98-2 margin in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. That has not been the only area in which consensus in foreign policy — often in opposition to the Trump administration — exists. Republicans and Democrats have repudiated efforts to slash foreign aid and eviscerate the State Department. Lawmakers in both parties have condemned the move to dictatorship in Venezuela, supported the Taylor Force Act (to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops compensates incarcerated terrorists), defended the NATO alliance and (which the State Department has ignored) to combat rogue regimes’ propaganda and cyberwarfare directed at undermining Western democracies.

We should not be Pollyanna-ish about the state of politics. There is fault on both sides, but Republicans in particular have performed abysmally in the Trump era, evidencing moral and intellectual corruption as they cower before a raging narcissist and demagogue who threatens the fiber of our democracy. Nevertheless, we see signs of hope, a thaw in the political winter. Voters should praise and support (financially and at the ballot box) politicians who eschew hyper-partisanship. They should punish those who practice divisive obstructionism.

It is only when politicians pay a penalty for extreme rhetoric and tribalistic behavior that we can make progress on large policy challenges, reinforce our democratic institutions and rid the United States of the noxious effects of Trumpism.

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