Walking along a free-flowing stream is a good exercise for body and soul. The water tumbles over a bed of rocks, flows around twists and turns, and occasionally rests in still, deep pools. But it always gushes on after replenishing the depths with fresh water.
I wish the politics of America were like that stream—always flowing forward, skillfully navigating twists and turns, and pausing for deep reflection before moving on to nourish the body politic with the wisdom of fresh insights. But, alas, that is rarely the case. Instead of progress and wisdom, the Republicans in the current Congress are threatening to dam the policy-making stream with brambles of conspiracy theories and the flotsam of their failed policies.
Joe Biden, in the first week of his presidency, put forth a comprehensive and bold plan to begin reopening that stream by aggressively combating Covid-19, providing assistance to a suffering people, and reinvigorating the economy. He invited Republicans to join in rebuilding and reenergizing a depleted, weary and demoralized nation.
An Insult Rather than a Compromise
The Republicans responded with a counter proposal that was a fraction of what the president and most economists said was needed. It was not a compromise but an insult—an insult to Americans who are suffering from Covid-19, who are on the brink of financial catastrophe, and who are faced with Covid-induced unemployment. Too many of our American brothers and sisters are living in fear of getting sick, of losing their homes, and of watching their children go hungry. The Republican message to them? Tough luck.
The leaders of American cities and states have shouldered much of the financial and emotional burden as the pandemic ripped through their cities and countryside like a category-5 hurricane, destroying the fabric of community and casting away hope. By shouldering the burden, these city and state governments have depleted their resources. They, unlike the federal government, must balance their budgets and this brings the prospect of cutting schools, public safety and many of the services their citizens depend on for daily life.
These local and state entities are financial engines for the national economy. According to a Council of Foreign Relations report, “collectively they outspend Washington on direct goods and services, employ more service workers than the domestic manufacturing sector, and are responsible for about 15 percent of our national GDP. States and cities supply nearly 80 percent of the $441 billion spent nationally on transportation and water infrastructure…and contribute more than 90 percent of the money spent nationally on K-12 education.”
But Republicans are adamant: No aid to blue states and cities—despite the fact that millions of Americans live in those states and cities. My somewhat cynical (but I think accurate) conclusion is that what really bothers them is that many of the people in blue-state cities are people of color, people who gather around Black Lives Matter banners instead of MAGA flags. And, they seem to ignore the fact that states with Republican governors and cities with Republican mayors are equally confronted with the potential of a fiscal crisis.
A Struggle for Democracy
The struggle currently before Congress is not a political sport; it is life and death. It is not solely about combating the pandemic and reinvigorating our economy, it is about the survival of American democracy. Our cherished democracy will not survive a continued onslaught from the band of congressional Republicans and the Trump-loving anarchists whose lust for power and whose reverence for all things Trump fuels their words and actions.
You think I am becoming too dystopian? Well, consider that the Department of Homeland Security reports that “ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize and incite violence.”
Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reported that the FBI, in a legal filing, “disclosed that one such violent extremist, a Trump supporter, was found with five pipe bombs, 49 firearms, 15,000 rounds of ammunition and bomb making material. Authorities believe he was targeting California Governor Gavin Newsom… and ‘other Democratic targets’ to make sure Trump stayed in office.” Milbank asked, is it “any wonder the threat of violence has become a constant presence in our political life? We see death threats against state election officials, state and local health officials— and, of course, journalists.”
No, politics in America is not a stroll along a peaceful stream. There is not a bi-partisan utopia that will rise from the deep pools of brother/sisterhood. We instead are hurtling down toward a class-VI rapid that threatens to overturn our raft.
Where do You Stand?
President Abraham Lincoln said that Union troops fought and died to ensure that “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Well, the people elected Joe Biden; the people elected a Democratic House and Senate. President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lead the government selected by the people, by us.
We must stand with them in the struggle to make this democracy work. That is, make it work equally for all of the American people regardless of where they live, their age, their race, their gender, their religious preference, their political registration, their financial status. It will be hard and it will be a struggle–––but if we employ our words and our actions, and if we work together rather than in competition with each other, maybe our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the deep pool of peace.
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.