Why are we willing to spend $7.78 trillion over the next ten years on defense, without any debate, while we’re unwilling to even talk about things like spending less than half of that amount on childcare, including pre-school; community college; and climate change?
Sure, we all think something will emerge from Congress in the next week or so, but right now, I’m thinking of you, Senate Republicans and your constant wielding of the filibuster as a way to simply not talk about anything. It’s a distant memory, to be sure, but I can recall when the United States Senate was actually—not in name only—the greatest deliberative body in the world. Once upon a time, we made war, peace, and The Great Society there.
We are also stuck in a partisan battle of wills over voting rights. Republicans are doing all they can to stop Democrats from passing two voting rights initiatives—things that have never before been partisan or controversial in the least—that guarantee all citizens a vote.
The For the People Act passed the House. Here’s historian Heather Cox Richardson: “The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.”
It has been the spoken intent of the Republican Party to restrict voting rights since the Eighties when Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of both the Moral Majority and the right-wing think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, said in front of God and everybody, “I don’t want everybody to vote…our prospects go up as the voting populace goes down.” He was followed that night by Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell who both endorsed his ideas about holding down the number of voters in the U.S. They all knew that if all our citizens were allowed to vote, they’d never win another election.
Somehow, in the course of all this, public health has fallen victim to our self-destructive strain of tribalism. In 2009, the Pew Research Center asked adults about mandatory childhood vaccines. They found essentially no difference in the response from Republicans and Democrats (both were in favor to the tune of 80%). By 2015, with their presidential candidate wrongly blaming autism on childhood vaccines, Republicans’ positive response to the same question fell to 65%. Today, according to YouGov, which has also been asking the question for years and getting responses that mirror Pew, the number has fallen to 46%, while Democrats’ positive response has risen to 85%.
You can thank a contrarian president who poo-pooed a deadly pandemic for months, eschewing masks as some kind of effete response to an illness that is nothing more than the flu, robbing us prep time, and the kind of important information that might have saved a lot of lives. That led far too many in the wrong direction.
The University of Virginia polling suggests that Democrats and Republicans both think their president should be able to act unilaterally to circumvent Congress and the courts.
Here are some of their other findings:
•Eighty-plus percent of Democrats believe the Republicans represent a clear and present danger to American democracy; the same number of Republicans believe Democrats represent a similar threat. And similar percentages of voters for both parties:
•Fear someone they know will suffer personal loss if the other party is in power.
•Believe that despite First Amendment protections of free speech, some media outlets should be censored.
•Believe that the other side wants to eliminate the influence of their values.
•Believe that the other side’s media might as well be part of the opposition party establishment.
•Believe that voters for the opposition party are a clear and present danger to our way of life.
So, for what it’s worth, your friends on the other side of the political aisle are just as scared as you are. They think you’re a threat to democracy; you think they’re threat to democracy. We have everything in common and yet our tribalism leads us to opposite conclusions.
This tribalism has landed us in a dangerous place. I’m concerned that a new norm is materializing through state legislatures that want the power to overturn the peoples’ vote. One where Republicans cry “fraud” with every lost election from dog-catcher to president. Free and fair elections are the lifeblood of the American experiment, and it’s looking like we need a transfusion. Arizona and Georgia are leading the way by allowing their legislatures to overrule their voters.
Our tribes need to find a way to come together. Now.
©2021 Jon Sinton