What issues should be at the top of the next president’s agenda: Health care? Climate change? Inequality? The economy? Gun control? Compassionate immigration policies? Infrastructure? Education? Terrorism? International relationships? Trade? Budget deficits? Recommitting to science and research? Ending political gridlock?
All these and other issues are begging for immediate attention and need to be on the quick-action agenda. But before substantive work on a controversial agenda can be effectively undertaken we must first accomplish the task Nancy Pelosi set when she became speaker: build unity in our diversity.
The cornerstone of an enduring and functional democracy is a willingness to seek consensus solutions to difficult, contentious issues. A government in which the majority party exercises absolute rule becomes a government that enacts priorities based on the rigid ideological extremes of loyal followers rather than on common good. That process is often a brutal partisan brawl that results in short-term Pyrrhic victories.
One needs only to remember the 2010 and 2018 midterm elections in which the ruling party lost its’ majority after running ramshackle over the minority. We are once again approaching an election in which the current ruling party has ruthlessly forced its will on the minority.
The last three years in America have been a reality show staring a vulgar, dishonest, belligerent bully who set out to undo the blessings of liberty and equality that are guaranteed to all people by our constitution. For him, the only people who deserve to be blessed by constitutional guarantees are those who dedicate their lives to increasing his power and nurturing his sense of self glory. They cheer, chant and boo gleefully when he attacks and destroys their perceived enemies.
Much of the common-good infrastructure that the current president inherited—from environmental protections to improved access to health care; from a safety net for the poor and vulnerable to substantive consumer protections—has been either destroyed or diluted by congressional and executive action.
The taxation systems and economic institutions have been tilted away from a majority of the people and toward the wealthy and the financial power brokers. America’s once respected public education system is on the path toward destruction. Bigotry, anti-Semitism, racism, and white nationalism have been boosted by words and actions coming from the White House and its band of sycophantic supporters.
All of this makes me furious and makes me thirsty for revenge. But, while revenge might feel good in the short run, it is not a viable governing principle. Returning to the principle of common good is, and this means stepping away from what divides us and building on what unites us. It means seeking a consensus on a new agenda for this decade, an agenda that attracts enough bi-partisan support in the congress and on the streets of our communities to give it staying power.
Only such an agenda will survive in the manner that Social Security has survived all attempts to scuttle it. The “my way or the highway” form of governance, pronouncing that there is only one answer to the many extremely complex challenges we are facing, will doom us to everlasting and divisive strife.
If a new leader is inaugurated on January 20, 2021 she or he must rise above the partisan desire to punish those we perceive as enemies, and that leader will be able to do it only if we the people do it first.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.