After much controversy and drama, Brett Kavanaugh now has a seat on the United States Supreme Court. And no matter how you feel about that, there is a lot to dislike about the events of the past few weeks. Most bothersome to me was a statement made by Senator Jeff Flake a few days after the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing last month.
In an interview for 60 Minutes, interviewer Scott Pelley mentioned that Flake, a Republican, is not seeking re-election at the end of his term. Flake broke party lines and cooperated with Democratic Senator Chris Coons in calling for the FBI to investigate Dr. Ford’s sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh. Pelley asked if Flake would have been able to reach out to Coons if he was not retiring. Flakes response? “Absolutely not.” he said. “There just isn’t any value, currency or incentive in reaching across the aisle anymore”.
And that statement represents our country’s biggest problem. Our Congressional leaders find no value in compromising with each other. Is that their fault? Maybe. They know that comprising often brings the wrath of their own party. Maybe it’s our fault because too many of us think of politics as a blood-sport. A death match against arch rivals. Have we elected die-hard partisans to office because they were the only ones on the ballot? Or do we demand partisanship in the candidates we vote for?
Whatever the reason- we need to fix it. We should know from our own experiences in school, work and community, that complicated problems are best solved by collaboration. Rarely is one person’s thinking so ideal and complete that one head proves better than two. Collaboration builds community. It values everybody’s input and perspective.
How did we get to this place? I’m not sure, but fixing it has to start with us. Each of us needs to look in the mirror and reevaluate our own attitudes about politics and what we value in our representatives.
As a kid, I remember hearing my uncle complain about something he saw on the news, where Congressmen admitted to the interviewer that they would routinely head to their favorite bar after a contentious debate. My uncle was mad about it. He wondered how in the world these feuding senators could so easily hang out together and be friends after such a heated argument. “Slime balls.” he called them, accusing them of being in “the government club” together.
My uncle was on to something though. Those senators really were in the government club together. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My uncle’s senators had relationships with others across the aisle. They were “allowed” and encouraged to build bridges and compromises. It was seen as a sign of strength, not weakness. Did everybody love the results? Not always. Was everything perfect? Certainly not. But the approach was often one of cooperation, not domination. Of all of us, not me verses you. Of seeking the best result, not just winning.
The change back to those approaches has to start with us. We need to apply these concepts to our own interactions with each other, political and otherwise. We need to talk to each other with the same character we expect to see from our political leaders. Over time we will see a change in the type of people running for office. They will have learned, from our culture’s example, how to act and interact. They will know that compromise is valued and that cooperation yields best results. We need to lead by example. We the unelected, regular citizens. The voters.
How do we start? First, let’s all calm down. Outrage is today’s most overvalued commodity. Second, let’s talk about issues again with our friends, neighbors and relatives who disagree with us. It will be uncomfortable at first. But we must relearn how to communicate with respect, honesty, and a desire to understand rather than inform. Third, let’s work to maintain our relationships and build community in all things. Hopefully, at some point our culture will mature. And as a result, so will our leaders.