WOODY BASSETT: Common ground is out there

Nation doesn’t have to be relegated to extremes

Where's the hope and usefulness in our politics now? What happened to our ability to compromise for the better good? Is problem-solving no longer achievable in our democracy? What happened to engaging in productive and robust debate rooted in truth, common sense, real facts and actual evidence? What happened to having the courage to cast an unpopular vote that might jeopardize your re-election but you knew was in the country's best interest? Where's the decency, respect and civility toward others? What happened to appealing to the best in people instead of the worst?

In America today, we are failing at politics. The middle ground has collapsed beneath our feet and when the center doesn't hold, it's hard to keep anything, including a country, from coming apart at the seams. Political beliefs have become unyielding. Compromise is now considered to be a sign of weakness and politicians live in fear of trying to find common ground with the other side in order to legislate. Fair and rational political conversation has largely vanished. Too few of us are willing to listen to those with different views and ideas. Too many of us have picked a team, not because our team has earned our trust and our vote at the next election, but because we reflexively reject the opposing team. Somehow we've arrived at a place in our politics where we've forgotten that we're all on the same team--the American team.

David Brooks, a conservative commentator who writes for the New York Times, set forth the reality of and reason for politics in his column of Feb. 26, 2016: "We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society--politics or some sort of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics. Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate. The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It's messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal."

Having core values and fighting hard for what we believe is a hallmark of our democracy but it's still essential that we be capable of recognizing the best in the other side and the worst in ours. It shouldn't always be about us vs. them; it ought to be about right vs. wrong. Blind allegiance to one's chosen political party means you've stopped thinking, weakening our collective capacity to meet the many challenges facing our country.

Most Republicans think most Democrats are too liberal while most Democrats think most Republicans are too conservative. But that's because the loudest voices today are those firmly entrenched on the far right and far left when it comes to ideology and governance. The truth is, contrary to the noise on cable television and talk radio, what Democrats don't like, a lot of Republicans don't like either and what Republicans don't like, a lot of Democrats don't like either. There's still plenty of common political ground in America but we've lost sight of it due to the rampant, extreme partisanship along ideological, racial and cultural fault lines which has infected the nation's bloodstream. We need leaders who will tap into people's hopes, not their fears. Dividing us and turning people against each other diminishes our country, leaving us incapable of finding workable and sensible solutions to our most pressing problems.

Our democracy is critically ill and the need to restore it to good health is urgent. Our salvation lies in both sides returning closer to the political middle ground. If we want the United States to be the best it can be for future generations, the American people must demand that our politicians start putting their country over their party. We have to agree to disagree, look for common ground and then compromise in order to get on with the nation's business. If we don't, there will be a day of reckoning.

Let's remember what Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Our democracy is being tested right now but we've endured and passed far more difficult tests in our nation's history. We'll pass this one too because Americans, regardless of their beliefs, love their country and know they are fortunate to make a life in the world's greatest democracy.

Commentary on 08/16/2018

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