Last Saturday, Donald Trump dug his heels deep into the loamy soil of South Carolina, bolstering his lead by ten points over the second closest contender in the GOP, Ted Cruz. Just three days later, Trump found footing in the fickle desert of Nevada, trouncing his opponents with an unprecedented 45.9% of Republican votes. The race is just as lopsided at the opposite end of the spectrum as well. Hillary Clinton’s 544 delegates have inundated Senator Sanders, who the people of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina have awarded a mere 85 delegates. From my current vantage point, it seems like the race will be one between familial dynasties. One, opulent and infamous. The other, well, is also quite opulent and infamous (you decide who’s who). A presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton does not only seem―but truly is―unfathomable. What’s frightening to me is not the possibility of either candidate taking office, but how the months preceding the election will affect cohesion in our nation once we’ve decided between the lesser of two evils. The Democrats could not hold more contempt for a candidate than they do for the boisterous and recalcitrant Donald Trump. Republicans feel the same way about Hillary Clinton, who they believe is empirically dishonest and incapable of effectively managing the office for which she is running.
My harsh language towards both candidates isn’t rooted in personal bias, but is instead an exercise to demonstrate how each party regards the opposing front-runner. This rhetoric is a manifestation of the drastic polarization of Democrats and Republicans, not only in Congress, but also amongst average American voters.
At this point in my blog, I was planning to summarize a poll on bipartisanship, maybe one from Gallup or some other big-name pollster. But, to my absolute astonishment, constituents haven’t been polled on whether or not they favor working across party lines since before the outset of this election (to my knowledge, at least. If you find otherwise, please let me know). Now, this discovery wouldn’t be quite as startling if political polls hadn’t found themselves at the nexus of every conversation, speculation, and oration that this election cycle has seen. Maybe my perception of the importance of bipartisanship to most voters is skewed, maybe it’s not the vanguard of either party’s platform, but isn’t it an issue to which we should at least give some attention?
Last weekend, on the eve of the Republican primary in South Carolina, Wake The Vote hosted a town hall with the state chairs of both parties, Matt Moore (GOP) and Jaime Harrison (Democratic). Though both men were steadfast in their respective views, they maintained a neighborly demeanour throughout our conversation. Speaking with Mr. Moore and Dr. Harrison afterwards, they confirmed that they were in fact good friends and had been for some time. Both came from similar backgrounds, had similar aspirations as young men, and even in their current positions have extremely similar goals. But their ideas on how to achieve these goals are vastly different. Still, that didn’t detract from their mutual subscription to the doctrine of bipartisanship. “There are no bad people in politics, just bad ideas,” Matt Moore said.
This notion persisted when we traveled to Washington D.C. last Thursday. During a meeting on Capitol Hill with North Carolina State Representative Alma Adams (D), she affirmed that partisanship has no business in certain issues such as education or care for our veterans, yet there it still festers. Policy advisors to the White House shared similar concerns, especially with regard to issues such as Title X funding, fearing that a Republican in office may lead to the immediate cessation of those funds on account of strict party allegiances.
So, other than a simple friendly countenance, is there a solution to ardent party loyalties that obstruct progress on issues over which we cause needless strife? How can we implement functional bipartisanship into our current political institutions? After an extremely polarized election, how might we reconcile our parties to work together toward these goals? Alma Adams, Matt Moore, and Jaime Harrison offered diplomatic solutions: work together on issues in which both parties share interest, remember that above all we’re Americans, not just Democrats or Republicans. To me, these answers seemed hollow. These might be operative resolutions in a vacuum, ignoring the influence of pecuniary interests in politics, but how plausible is it for politicians to neglect party concerns and find middle ground?
At a Ted Cruz rally in an airplane hangar in Columbia, South Carolina, the aroma of jet-fuel was only the second most most combustible agent in the room. The aura of anger, hatred, and profound nationalism seemed like it would prompt the throng of evangelical Carolinians into flames any second. Supported by the notoriously conservative Duck Commander, Phil Robertson, Cruz vilified the socialist Bernie Sanders, the venal Hillary Clinton, and even his fellow Republicans whose opinions he repeatedly castigated. The Democrats are no less guilty. Hillary Clinton, when asked the enemy of which she is most proud, smugly declared, “Republicans!”
With candidates such as Senator Cruz and Secretary Clinton in the running, one who can’t stand to work alongside members of his own party and one who views the other party as her natural enemy (not to mention Donald Trump’s hostility towards anyone who isn’t named Donald Trump), how can we expect to see any semblance of bipartisanship during the next president’s term? I’ve asked a lot of questions, I know. I will not pretend to have the answers to all of these questions because I assure you I do not. I inquire only to express my concerns with the direction in which our political system is heading. I’m not going to broadcast some ill founded sense of nostalgia hoping to make America great again or plea for the rise of a political revolution, but instead urge my fellow citizens and the politicians in which we place our faith to wade out of this stagnant pool of political grid-lock and dry off in the warm air of functional bipartisanship. What does this air look like? I don’t know, but we must at the very least show a national willingness to bask in it.
Nick Boney 2/29/16