December 3rd, 2020 by Jennifer Sensiba
With the election over and the challenges to the results starting to come to a close, we’re seeing calls for unity to get the country through the challenges we’re facing. While most are well meaning, nearly all of them lack any call for substantive action to achieve the unity we all need. Without action, the words ring hollow, and are (perhaps rightly) seen as “my way or the highway.” With the challenges we face, especially the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening environmental issues, we don’t have time for the usual partisan games that divide us. We need to act now to extend real olive branches and come together on these important challenges.
Cause For Hope
One thing that makes this especially tough is the way Donald Trump has acted as president. I get that. With scapegoating, attacks on civil liberties, insults, and even attacks on the democratic processes themselves (among many other things), he hasn’t been much of a uniter. Years of bad faith, name calling, and game playing takes a toll on anyone’s ability to get along with Republicans in 2021.
On the other hand, the data does give us some hope for Republicans’ ability to get along and work with the rest of us to get things right in 2021. While Donald Trump did poorly in key swing states, the rest of the Republicans downticket did a lot better. It looks like they have a reasonable chance of maintaining the Senate, and even picked up seats in the House. If every Republican did as poorly as Trump, that would have been nearly impossible.
What this tells us is that Republicans aren’t all like Donald Trump. They don’t believe in the whole Democratic Party platform, and didn’t want the opposing party to run the whole government, but enough of them were afraid of Trump’s behavior to either vote for Biden or vote for a third party.
Even among those that voted for Trump, they don’t all believe in such a bombastic brand of governing. Out of all the people I know who voted for Trump, very few actually liked the guy. Most would have preferred Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or some other candidate in 2016, and only voted for Trump in the general election because they feared Hillary Clinton more than they feared Donald Trump. For this reason, many of their votes shouldn’t be seen as a wholesale endorsement of Trumpism.
In other words, there weren’t over 70 million Trump voters in 2020. The real number of people who support Trump’s whole agenda are far smaller.
Another important thing to remember is that a number of Republican election officials, governors, and even state legislators stood firm against calls for handing Trump the election without real proof of election fraud. This was even in the face of pressure, invitations to the White House, and even death threats.
Ideas on Coming Together
With all of this in mind, it’s a little easier to think about ways to come together and not just demand that Republicans toe the line for unity. That doesn’t mean everyone else (Democrats, independents, and third party voters) has to abandon anything important, like addressing climate change or dealing effectively with the pandemic.
To address important things, we need to decide what they are and put those first. I addressed this in another article, but in short, we can’t waste political capital on things that don’t matter as much as the big issues and existential threats of our time. To get the good will and votes together for much needed action, it’s going to take some sacrifice.
We need to encourage Democratic leaders to not waste time on hot button issues, for starters. The most divisive things with the least value aren’t worth wasting our whole future over. We can’t compromise on civil rights issues, but when Joe Biden is seen as against Republicans’ rights, we can expect them to dig in and oppose him on other issues. Gun control, anti-discrimination laws without reasonable exceptions for religious entities, major wealth redistribution projects, and the federal government’s constant pretending that the Tenth Amendment (not to mention the Ninth) doesn’t exist — all of these are difficult to get passed, let alone actually implement with Republican resistance. By prioritizing important issues and finding common ground, we can actually get things done in ’21.
On important issues like climate change, we need to be better at finding common ground. Instead of pushing for a sweeping Green New Deal, we need to look at places where the rest of us have common ground with Republicans. For example, electric vehicles are more “‘Murican” than most other vehicles. Teslas are made in America, run on American fuel, and help contribute to American energy independence. Solar panels are a “doomsday prepper’s” dream, with the ability to make your own fuel at home. They also contribute to greater disaster preparedness in the community and more American jobs.
In other words, we need to sell good ideas to conservatives on their conservative merits instead of demanding that the Republicans take their medicine and just see things our way while they’re wondering whether the election might have been stolen. One approach will successfully meet the challenges of our time; the other will not.
We should also question whether there needs to be “losers” after an election. The US is dominated by “first past the post” election systems, where 51% of the voters can “win” while the other 49% get no voice in Washington or at the state capitol. Even worse, there are times when the winning candidate in a 3+ way race can win on a mere plurality (getting the most votes, but less than 50%), leaving the majority of the voters effectively unrepresented until the next election. Stack on top of that the low number of people who turn out for elections, and an even smaller portion of the overall population truly has a voice.
We need to also keep in mind that many independents and third party voters never win elections, and thus never get represented. With no voice in government, people perpetually left on the fringes are more easily swayed to extremism and even terrorism to feel heard. We will continue to have animal rights activists torching businesses and plots to kidnap Democratic governors as long as this continues to be the case.
With reforms like ranked choice voting, multi-seat districting, and proportional representation, we can make sure that more Americans get a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect everybody. While everyone can’t always get what they want, just knowing that they still get to play a part in the process instead of being shut out entirely keeps us all engage in the civic process and makes democracy something more people will want to protect instead of destroy.
Being Nice to People
Finally, we need to be nice to people about politics, and that’s an area where Joe Biden has been exceptional. When it would have been easy to stoop to Trump’s level and hurl insults, Biden was so nice that many Democrats were saying he was too nice.
That’s an example we can all follow every day, even when politics is broken and things aren’t getting done. We don’t need to be on social media rubbing people’s faces in the election results. We don’t need to be cutting off relatives and friends who voted differently than we do (unless, of course, they really are bad people, but that’s not very common). We don’t need to be bragging to people, saying things like “Biden’s going to take that nasty diesel away” or “you only got a gun because you’re insecure in the size of your _____.” What feels good in the moment isn’t always good for us in the long run.
If we want to change the world and fix problems, we have to be better than Donald Trump, and that’s not terribly hard.
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