In recent years, politics has gotten a bad name, but not always for the right reasons. We tend to limit our understanding of politics to the work of government, regarding politicians as corrupt, perennial liars, who promise us the world while running for (re)election, asking for our support in terms of volunteer time and money, and who basically disappear until the next election cycle and start the whole thing all over again. While that might be partially true, that’s not the main reason we ought to be concerned about the state of politics in our world.
Actually, when it lives up to its true purpose, there is nothing wrong with politics. It is not a dirty word. Though it can be corrupted, as so many other endeavors, at its core politics is simply the “art of getting things done.” In every group, organization, institution, nation, even family, there is politics. That is to say, politics is the process by which we appropriate limited resources—money, time, and space—to whatever goals we have in mind. From my experience in more than thirty of leadership, there are never enough resources to accomplish everything that everyone wants to do. And that is when we are all motivated by good intentions, not merely self-serving ones.
Though it may sound like an oxymoron to some, politics can be a clean process. It does not have to be underhanded at all. When our politics is transparent, open, and equally accessible it is, in fact, healthy. Everyone gets a chance to make his or her case, every opportunity is given equal consideration, and everyone has a voice in the ultimate decision. While it may get heated or contentious at times, there does not have to be back room conversations or under the table dealings. No one gets everything at the expense of those who get nothing. A spirit of understanding and compromise pervades the process and the one true goal is the good of all. That is politics at its best. That is the national politics, more or less, I witnessed growing up. One of the tasks of leaders is to be a “master politician;” that is, a person who truly listens to the concerns of others and finds a way for all their legitimate needs to be fulfilled.
So what has happened to America that our government seems paralyzed, so little is accomplished, people’s real needs are ignored, and politicians are among the least trusted professionals in our country?
I believe the current shift began with the birth of the Tea Party, a right wing leaning faction of the Republican Party whose beliefs and ideals left little room for compromise. The Democrats, by and large, continued to behave as they always had, thinking the majority of Republicans would come around to do what government always needs to do—work together. Currently, among the Democratic candidates for President, Joe Biden represents that era of government, and his “romanticizing” of that past has already gotten him into trouble. Why? Because the Republican Party, as demonstrated by the election of Donald Trump, influenced by Steve Bannon and the Alt Right as well as numerous conspiracy groups, has moved even further right, secured by a base that would support the President even, “If I shot someone on 5th Avenue!” Remember, to almost every pollster’s shock, Trump handily defeated a slate of Republican insiders, most of whom represented the good old days of political compromise, including the seemingly already anointed and well-funded Jeb Bush.
The Democratic Party was challenged to respond with a shift to the left in the 2016 primary by the independent Senator Bernie Sanders. Though immensely popular among younger voters, the Party successfully resisted his hostile takeover with the super delegates, handing the nomination to the ultimate insider, Hillary Clinton, in spite of how unpopular and mistrusted she was by the American public. Her loss was a disaster. Now, in the run-up to the 2020 election, the Democratic primary looks a lot like the Republicans of 2016. Too many candidates for a single debate stage, but more importantly, most of them supporting policies which, while erroneously being called “socialist,” nevertheless represent a marked shift to the left. And they are joined by many newly elected to Congress.
In other words, what we are witnessing is the two parties moving further apart in their vision for America. And that spells even greater division and paralysis in Washington. What the Democrats now hope for is a complete takeover of both legislative houses as well as the White House so that they can un-do the policies of Trump, replacing them with their own. That will work until the next Republican takeover which will switch the pendulum to the other side. Back and forth it will go, as it has now for decades, each side castigating and blaming the other, with each President trying to do as much as possible through executive order and so-called “national emergencies.” And who will be the losers? Rank and file Americans, because true political process and the greater good will be cast aside, as it already has.
What we fail to understand is why we are where we are. Human history does not follow a single straight line; rather, there are ebbs and flows in every endeavor, not just in politics—a few steps forward and a few steps back. Movements to the left, including every revolution we have ever witnessed, promise greater inclusion and equality; movements to the right, including every fascist, authoritarian leader, promise greater stability and security, harkening back to some fantasized or idealized era when everything was right with the world, where people knew their place and roles. Such movements are often labeled “reactionary.” We are living through such a time right now, witnessing it all over the world. Why?
In the United States, after decades of policies that brought civil rights to African Americans, feminism and movement toward full gender equality, greater protections for LGBTQ individuals, reproductive freedoms and safe access to abortion, voting rights for previously disenfranchised, affordable health care, legalization of marijuana in many states, technological upheaval in the job markets, and the “browning” of our population—those who have been left out or left behind are frightened and angry. They feel unheard and unprotected. For them, the American dream has become a delusion at best, a nightmare at worst. They want their country back, as if it was theirs in the first place! After all, this country was founded on white, make privilege. Guess what? In spite of all the changes, it is still around.
Demagogues have always feasted on such a coalescence of factors—using fear and an “us against them” paradigm to keep us separate from and suspicious of one another. And the more we do not talk to and listen to each other, the greater their power. Only a complete change of heart will alter the current reality. We can be truly great but only if we all benefit. Otherwise, we will continue to demonize and disparage one other to the detriment of us all and the demise of our nation that we are witnessing each and every day. Is it bad? Yes. Can it get worse? You betcha! In the Jewish tradition we say that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not because the Romans were more powerful than us; rather, because of sinat achim—political divisions that turned to hatred, literally “brother against brother.” Either the two sides need to lay down their ideological spears and figure out how to work together again or a centrist third party needs to emerge and win enough votes to take over the leadership of our great nation. Like climate change, time is running out.
I exist to be a connector—connecting people to themselves (allowing for awareness and insight, as well as wholeness and personal growth); to one another (creating sacred community); and to God (linking themselves to a Higher Purpose in all they do in life).
Phone: (305) 794 – 0442