Sunday, November 11, 2018

America Is Diverse, Not Divided

Consider this headline on Bloomberg: "Election Shows That U.S. Divisions Are Only Growing Wider -- Social discord, partisan rancor and government sclerosis are about to get worse."

Or this headline in The New Yorker: "America’s Fever Is Still Rising"

Consider also this map of "Red" and "Blue" states based on the recent mid-term election results:

Or this map of Congressional distict results:

Where in either map is there a modern-day equivalent of the Mason Dixon Line, which set the northern border of the pre-Civil war "slave" states and then the northern border of the short-lived Confederate States of America? Where is the divide?

How many of the fifty states are wholly "Red" or wholly "Blue"? Even presumably "deep blue" California and New York have noticeable swaths of Republican Red.

Contrary to the breathless hyperbolic headlines, what these maps illustrate is not division but diversity. Both Republicans and Democrats look to Washington DC for national leadership. Both Republicans and Democrats, in seeking power within the Federal government, evince an awareness of a truly united nation. Implicit in all the electioneering, the preening, the posturing, is the premise that these United States are still as we proclaim to be in our Pledge Of Allegiance, "...One Nation...Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

No, Republicans and Democrats do not agree on what constitutes "justice". Conservatives and progressives do not agree on what meaning we should have for "liberty."  Yet there is still much upon which Republicans and Democrats do agree, and we see this in the mid-term elections and the aftermath:
  • Republicans and Democrats agree that elections matter.
  • Republicans and Democrats agree that all votes are important.
  • Republicans and Democrats agree that electoral outcomes set the agenda, the direction, and the tone of each administration and session of Congress. 
  • By their politicking and even by their pandering, Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledge the eternal truth of Hamilton's assessment of American democracy: "Here, Sir, the people govern."
The legacy media--deservedly and derisively termed the "Fake News Media"--are championing a false vision of the United States. Through such hyperbolic headlines as mentioned above, through such blatant propaganda, they exacerbate disagreement into division. They have transformed worthy debates into "wedge issues" and then hammered relentlessly on those issues to produce the signs of division they so hypocritically bemoan today.

There are real issues and real disagreements among Americans. There are pressing issues for which our governments must devise solutions--our immigration system needs reform, our infrastructure needs repair--and there are real concerns about foreign policy, trade relations, healthcare, just to name a few. Americans do not see eye to eye on any of these issues.

Americans have never seen eye to eye on issues. Americans have disagreed and debated since the founding of the Republic. In virtually every decade since the Constitution was drafted in 1787, there has been passionate and partisan debate over contentious issues, ranging from the role of the Federal government to slavery to Manifest Destiny to the New Deal to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Americans disagreed over Operation Iraqi Freedom. Americans disagreed over TARP and the bank bailouts of 2008, giving rise to the Tea Party, and disagreed over Obamacare, resulting in the wave election of 2010.

Yet the Republic has endured. The government stands. We The People are still here.

That is something the Fake News Media and anyone else who would promote the propaganda of rampant rancor and petty partisanship would do well to remember. For despite their very best efforts, the Union is still standing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

America Voted, And The Winner Was...."None Of The Above"

The results are in, and once again the American electorate has voted for gridlock.

With a number of races still to be called in the House, the Democrats thus far have an absolute minimum of seats needed to control that chamber.  The Republicans, meanwhile have added at least 3 seats to their majority in the Senate.

The legacy media is already giving their typical partisan spin on the results: Dana Milbank at the highly left-leaning Washington Post titled his assessment "America Steps Back From The Abyss". Fox News, ever the reliable establishmentarian conservative outlet, reaches the opposite conclusion with "Thanks to Trump, the Blue Wave Becomes a Ripple.".

Ultimately, both are wrong.

One of the enduring myths of government in the modern era is the notion that Americans want government to do much. Historically, Americans take a dim view of activist government. Since World War II, there have been only 14 out of 37 sessions of Congress (including the upcoming session) where the same party controlled the Senate, the House, and the Presidency:

During that same period, America has had 20 sessions of Congress with a Republican President and only 17 sessions with a Democrat President. Republicans have controlled the Senate for 13 sessions and the House for 11 Sessions. Only once has America voted to give a President a unified Congress, and that was in 2002, when President George W. Bush was handed a Republican Senate to go with a Republican House. In 2010 and now again in 2018 the voters have responded to unified government by giving control of the House to the opposition party.

What America rejects is not so much Democrat and Republican politicians, but rather unified and effective government under either.  If there is any historical consensus among the electorate, it is for a Republican President with at least one chamber of Congress in Democratic hands. Partisanship is not the expressed will of We The People, not over the long term.

America's notion of good government, then, is not government that is either Democrat Blue or Republican Red. Good government in this Republic is Democrats and Republicans together addressing the nation's issues and attending to the nation's business.  Divided government produced the 1986 tax reforms under Ronald Reagan, and the 1996 welfare reforms under Bill Clinton.

In contrast, the unified Democratic administration of Lyndon Johnson ended in the social upheaval and chaos of 1968. The unified Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter resulted in "stagflation" which ushered in the Reagan era. The unified Republican administration of George W. Bush authorized Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unified Democratic administration of  Barack Obama resulted in Obamacare.

America's experience of unified government does not encourage us to indulge in it often.

If there is an election mandate arising from the 2018 midterm election results it is this: Democrats and Republicans must work together, and the Congress must work with the President to conduct this nation's business. If there is an electoral rebuke to be derived from these results it is to the notion that either party is much trusted by the American electorate with untrammeled power.  America prefers government that does what is necessary but no more than that--Americans prefer government to do too little than too much.

When given the choice between Democrats in power and Republicans in power, the choice of We The People has been once again "none of the above."

Hopefully, our elected officials in Washington will understand this and will behave accordingly.