A Way Out of Pendulum Politics
We live in an era of power swings in politics.
It wasn’t so long ago, just 2009, that Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Then Republicans won the House (2010); then the Senate (2014); then the presidency (2016).
With voters delivering control of the House to the Democratic Party on Tuesday, we are now swinging back in the other direction –– with little progress having been made in the interim on key issues ranging from health care to immigration.
Democrats are euphoric. Republicans are angry. As for many of us independents – now 40 percent of the electorate –– motion sickness might best describe it.
Putting a check on President Trump may be the only positive outcome of this election. Who believes that voters’ desire for change is satisfied by putting the speaker’s gavel back into the hands of (presumably) Nancy Pelosi? Who thinks dysfunction in D.C. will subside under divided government? How are we any closer to solutions on pressing problems?
While the pendulum swings, there is a growing group of Americans –– described in a recent study as the “Exhausted Majority” and estimated at 67 percent of the electorate –– who are tired of the political oscillation and are in search of a productive equilibrium.
This equilibrium is not a utopian absence of polarizing forces, but a balance between them. It’s not a mythical “middle ground” found by splitting the difference on any particular policy issue, but a higher ground found by using facts, reason, and common sense to address our biggest challenges.
In this equilibrium, we can reject false binaries, look for the best ideas, and actually get things done. Let’s start here, for example: Nearly 90 percent of Americans want to both enhance our border security and give a pathway to legal status for undocumented Americans brought here as children. So what, exactly, are we waiting for?
Both parties tell us to wait just one more election, so that they can gain full control of government to simply ram through their own agenda. History shows that doesn’t work –– at least not for long.
The problem is that pendulum politics, fueled by partisanship, is easy. Bumper stickers beat nuance: It’s build the wall vs. Medicare for all. Finger pointing frees us from responsibility: immigrant invasion vs. white patriarchy. Stoking hatred supplants our commonality: urban elites vs. rural working class.
Division drives attention, raises money, and wins votes.
Achieving a productive equilibrium, independent of the parties, is hard. Independent voters are the largest segment of the electorate, but they tend to tune out the partisan warfare and participate less. Nearly 60 percent of Americans express a desire for a new option other than Democrats and Republicans, but when Election Day arrives, fear of “spoiling” the election drives many back into partisan corners. Unity may make us feel good, but so far we haven’t voted that way.
The status quo of our rising debt, changing climate, and failing systems of education, health care and immigration should make this reality unacceptable. We cannot and should not go one more election where the outcome brings a swing to our politics rather than a solution to our problems.
Though difficult, there is a path to do so:
First, national leaders must come together to catalyze the “Exhausted Majority” of Democrats, Republicans, and independents into a new, grassroots “Country Over Party” movement as powerful as those on the left and right.
Second, that movement should advance structural political reforms to shift power away from the parties, special interests, and political extremes –– including by opening primaries, ending gerrymandering, and transforming elections through ranked-choice voting.
Third, those reforms will pave the way for “Country Over Party” candidates to win office in sufficient number whereby they can create a cross-partisan caucus that denies both parties an outright majority and gains the leverage necessary to advance new ideas.
The ultimate objective –– a new coalition of lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures who can radically re-center our politics and stay focused on advancing common-sense policy –– is possible to achieve within the next few election cycles.
Donald Trump is a symptom of our ailing democracy that a Democratic House can perhaps treat in the short term. But to truly break the fever it will take a new movement to unite our country around a new kind of politics.