Something is rotten in the state of the Union. Our leaders are more concerned about making the other side look bad than they are about effective governance, and have forgotten that they were elected to make mature decisions about the nation’s future. Politicians use underhanded methods and baiting tactics to produce “gotcha” moments for the country to witness and post about on social media. Misleading headlines and cleverly-edited “news” clips drive misconception and untruths faster than the falsities can be corrected, driving apart an already divided populace. I imagine the people reading this are expecting me to declare their party the more righteous one, and their opposing party to be the source of this poisonous state of affairs. They would be wrong. Both parties are responsible, Democrats and Republicans alike.
“But my party is on the right side of history!” Perhaps. But this says nothing as to the methods they employ. Let’s take a look at an example from last year; the “no-fly, no-buy” bill. Following the mass shooting in Orlando, Democrats proposed a bill to curb gun violence. The bill would restrict those put on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms. “If you’re too dangerous to fly” Democrats cried, “then you’re too dangerous to buy a gun!” In the most recent election, Hillary Clinton had championed the policy, even after the bill had been killed in the House and Senate.
Put simply, the bill was awful. The American Civil Liberties Union, widely considered to be a bastion of the left due to their championing of civil rights, sided with Republican lawmakers in condemning it. Their reasons were largely based in the fact that the bill used a secretive, error-prone system that has long been seen as the most egregious representation of racial profiling in the country. Additionally, it would set the precedent that the government could, on a whim, infringe on constitutional rights without due process, forcing people to go to D.C. to challenge the decision in court. Contrary to popular belief, our lawmakers are not stupid. Why would Democrats put forward a bill that united both the ACLU and GOP in opposition? Because it would make the GOP look bad. From a headline-worthy sit-in to Elizabeth Warren tweeting that Republicans “have decided to sell weapons to ISIS,” the Democrats tried their utmost to hang this bill around the necks of the GOP. So apparent were their efforts that liberal media sources practically cheered them on, with Slate writing that the Democrats had set up the Republicans with a false-flag bill.
This isn’t to say that Democrats shouldn’t get creative in how they tackle gun control. But putting forward a bill designed to fail and then painting opponents as evil for rejecting it is unambiguously a dirty tactic. Should it continue to employ such strategies, the party of FDR and JFK will face problematic chances of winning future elections, as they cede the moral high ground on an issue which, historically, moderate voters have been sympathetic to (only 10% of Americans think gun laws should be loosened).
So far, Republicans have enjoyed hearing how the Democrats have corrupted the system, but the party of Lincoln isn’t innocent either. For 8 long years, Republicans used every obstructionist method in the book to prevent even bipartisan legislation from being voted on, let alone being passed.
Not to mention, Republicans have long championed “common sense” voter-ID laws at the state level to solve a functionally nonexistent problem. These laws have the added effect of creating de-facto disenfranchisement for a staggering number of people, who largely vote blue. Couple those efforts with shutting down the entire government for 16 days in 2013 because of a budget disagreement, which left 800,000 federal employees without pay, and you get a party that works to severely undermine democratic institutions and the well being of the nation at large to “beat” the other side.
Both parties are guilty, as both have engaged in dirty politics. Obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism, bills being built to fail, and shutting down government to serve a political agenda are not good methods of governance. In fact, they are arguably a larger threat to the Union than a problematic president. When the branch of government that is supposed to be producing laws instead produces underhanded political brawls, people should be concerned. Part of being fit for office means putting the well being of the country above the desire to beat one’s opponents, which, as idealistic as it sounds, is the way our country has operated for the majority of its history. Never in our lifetimes have our representatives been so divided.
A major consequences of divisive, underhanded tactics being used in office is the further entrenchment of partisan ideologies, worsening gridlock all the more. By treating politics as a game or a sport, people root for their party and do everything they can to disgrace the other side. For those who don’t care for such a climate, however, options are limited. Voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections hit the lowest turnout in 70 years, with just over 36% of eligible voters participating. Unsurprisingly, the approval rate for Congress is also abysmally low, with just 20% of voters approving.
Despite social media giving the appearance of increased political participation (as people can share a political article at the touch of a button), many voters are frustrated with the system, and may not be sure exactly why. The explanation, though, is fairly clear. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say that on the issues that matter to them, their side loses more often than it wins. Combine disappointing political results with scandalous, problematic political tactics and many voters are left with little to like about politics. While some people have always been unhappy with the actions government has taken, respect for the institutions taking those actions has never been lower than it has in recent years.
When leaders speak of the country coming together, they should really be more concerned with their colleagues than ordinary people. If our representatives continue to care more about outmaneuvering their political opponents than the well being of the people they represent, Congress will likely continue its downward spiral of gridlock and disappointment to devastating effects that will continue to alienate voters. Compromise and common sense must win the day for the country to move forward. Certainly, some of the blame can be attributed to a divided populace, but the purpose of having a republic rather than a direct democracy lies in the idea that representatives are supposed to be mature enough to rise above the squabbles of the general population to do what is best for the country. The solution is less about changing minor details than it is about an ideological shift–if the Union is to remain as one of the major world powers, our leaders must rediscover their original purpose, and return to effective governing.
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