Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Coming back together after the 2020 election

 Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune

Today marked the next public step of the 2020 public election, as Congress meets to count the electoral votes and officially declare the winner of the election. Then, 14 days later, we will witness the peaceful transfer of power as Joe Biden is inaugurated as president of the United States.

Normally, these final two weeks are not carefully watched by the media or the general public. However, “unprecedented” is President Trump’s favorite mode of operations and ever since the election he has launched a passionate (and, so far, completely rejected) campaign to claim the election was rigged. As leaders on both sides of the aisle have noted, his actions and the actions of those who support him are undermining the very foundations of our democracy, and they are doing so without having launched a single court challenge with evidence sufficient to change the election.

Given the news earlier this week of President Trump pressuring the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, telling him, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” it seems the painful controversy and division of this presidency will continue right up until the final moment when Joe Biden places his hand on the Bible and swears an oath to serve as our president and to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.

Given that the president’s challenge to the 2020 election has no legal standing, is without evidence, and is certainly doomed to fail in Congress just as surely as it failed in the courts of our country, I do not believe this fire and fury will result in a change, thankfully.

The real question, for me, is what will happen after the inauguration.

Our nation is bitterly divided, likely as divided as we were in the late 19th century when the contested election of 1876 motivated Congress to create federal law to govern the counting of electoral votes. Some even think we are as divided as when we were on the cusp of the Civil War. There is no way of knowing for sure, but we must find a way, as a people, to come back together.

The idea that all politicians are deceitful has now been brought to the full conclusion of the idea. We earnestly need a commitment on all sides of the aisle to bring debate back to demonstrable truths based upon evidence and facts. The world of social media, along with the social isolation of the 2020 pandemic, has meant that we are even more locked in our echo chambers of only hearing the voices of those who agree with us. We must find ways to listen to one another, to find the points of policy and ideology on which we do disagree and also to locate and cling to underlying convictions many of us share.

Most importantly, we must find ways to return to a commitment to issues that used to (in theory, at least) garner bipartisan support: policies which combat racism, laws and regulations to protect our planet and environment, help for the poor and struggling, support for free and fair elections, increasing the quality of education, particularly early childhood education and college for low- and middle-income Americans, safeguarding the important role of the press in holding our leaders to account, and cooperation with our international allies in building a more peaceful and just world. Our parties have always approached these questions from different angles, but over the years we have done tremendous work in all of these issues by focusing on what is best for our country.

I also hope our political leaders in the Capital can find agreements on other issues that already have strong bipartisan support among the citizens of this country. The number of Americans who want stricter gun laws has continued to rise, now standing at 60 percent. Specifically, 72 percent of Americans support the requirement for a license before a gun purchase and a national red flag law, and 83 percent of Americans support the requirement of a background check in private and gun show sales. In the area of health care, 68 percent of Americans support the creation of a “public option” in the health care marketplace, an essential change and one that should be bipartisan (particularly since 56 percent of Americans now support Medicare-for-all).

Republicans should also stop fighting the culture wars of the previous generation. To date, 67 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. Surely, we can stop having to fight for equal protection for our LGBTQ citizens.

Similarly, only 20 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Surely we can come together and work constructively on policies that will continue to lower the abortion rate instead of fighting for its legality.

It just takes one leader in a political party to bring people together, one person willing to stand up and then to do the hard work of committing her or his colleagues to work together to solve the problem in front of us instead of lobbing attacks at the other side. After all, when the new Food Stamp program seemed bound to fail in the 1970s, it was Republican Sen. Bob Dole joining with Democratic Sen. George McGovern that led to the compromise which enabled the proposal to become law.

Given the past several years in our country, I know my hopes for bipartisan work to rebuild our country in a manner that is more just is unlikely. There is too much money to be made and power to be gotten by keeping the partisan battles going. But we, as citizens, no matter what your party, must demand more from our leaders in the year to come than we got from them in the years that are past.