Counter-intuitively, this midterm outcome enables us to actually get lasting work done

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For a moment imagine that we actually got things done.  The middle class had increasing economic opportunity. The world did not cook off. We had really good healthcare! That the recent election resulted in not just a “check” on the other party, but actual progress for the country on multiple important issues.

It’s not far-fetched.  I’ll show you how.

What gives me hope about this midterm result is that it opens a window of rationale for the parties to attempt bipartisanship again. Neither party controls both houses of Congress, so, unless there is collaboration, nothing will get done. And Nancy Pelosi, love her or hate her, this woman knows how to bargain.

Will she?  Is there an opening here for some cross-party progress on issues like healthcare and gun violence? Or are we looking at two years of locked horns whilst global temperatures keep rising?

Pelosi is at least giving it lip service:

“A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together, because we have all had enough of division. (cheers & applause from crowd) The American people want peace. They want results. They want us to work for positive results for their lives.”

Here’s the question to ask: Do we want to actually accomplish any of our goals? Do we want to address declining economic opportunities for the middle class? Do we want to fight climate change? Do we want border security?  Do we want to improve our health insurance situation?

Of course we do. The pertinent question then is … how?

Just for a moment let’s devote ourselves to that question, “How?”  The more brain cycles we direct toward it, the faster we will figure it out, so I will ask you, just for a moment, to walk with me through that question, in an undistracted manner.

By undistracted I mean, we’ll get through this faster if — just for a few moments — we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted by “Who is to blame for this?” or “What is wrong with those people?” I wouldn’t want to deny us those pleasures; there will be plenty of time for it later. So let’s get through this quickly.

Imagine with me that there is a group of people…

Let’s imagine this group has agreed among themselves not to take any action unless a majority of the group agrees to the action.

But let’s also imagine that the group is evenly divided on many issues.

This presents a challenge. The group cannot take any action on those issues, because it can never form a majority that agrees to the action.

But it is confronted with pressing problems; it needs to take action. What are the group’s choices?

(1) Butt heads with the opposing half, get nowhere. Nothing happens. Everyone dies.

(2) Occasionally establish a transient slight advantage over the other half, use it to “shove down their throats” an action they oppose, thereby incite them to fight harder in the next decision cycle and gain a transient slight advantage over one’s own half, which they then use to reverse the action one just took.  That thereby incites one’s half and the cycle resumes anew. ( … Maybe you’ve seen that movie.)

(3) Come to the realization that (2) above does not result in lasting solutions for one’s half, exercise leadership to persuade some portion of the other half to also realize (2) does not work for them either, and thereby resolve among those crazy rebel collaborators to craft a bipartisan solution to the problem that will be supported by enough members of both halves that it will not be immediately overturned in the next cycle. Problem solved.

(4) Or … abandon all hope and take no action. Everyone dies.

Does this make sense? Any need to spell it out further? Then let’s drop reality into the imaginary placeholders: (2) above does not result in lasting solutions for declining economic opportunities, income inequality, climate change, affordable health care, border security, trade pacts, nuclear treaties or … really anything.

So we need to evolve to (3). (If you agree, you’ll be needing to work on your persuasion skills, which you can read about here.)

Now, I know, one is anxious to observe that “the other side” (whichever) is blocking this notion of reasonable bipartisan collaboration. But here is the whole point about avoiding the finger-pointing “distraction” about which I spoke earlier.  It doesn’t matter what the other side has done.  That is only a distraction from what matters.

What matters is that, if we want to actually accomplish anything at all, we only have those four choices above. And, confronted with that reality, the question before us is not whether the other side has done something; it is which of those four choices we are going to make.

And truly, there is only one.

So we must lead. We must first lead our own half to realize that #3 is necessary. Then we must be leaders in persuading a portion of the other half that #3 is necessary.

Don’t think that is possible? Did you know over 8 million Obama voters voted for Trump? That basically proves that it’s possible for either party, no?

Of course it is possible.

We must lead toward mutually supportable solutions, not mimic the failed head-butting nor down-the-throat shoving approaches that brought us to this current, seemingly endless cycle of angry, frustrated … nothing.

Do we wish to be leaders?

Or just wallow down here in the mud?

Lead.

 

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7 Comments

    Jason

    Posted at Reply

    The 2018 midterm elections this week were a mixed bag, with both major parties winning key races and big prizes. The Democrat party won the House of Representatives, and the Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate. This result was not a surprise, in fact widely predicted by most of the political pundits for some time now.

    So what does this mean for the country at large? Probably not a whole lot. While the political class will celebrate and gloat for a while, the American people will be looking for results. Don’t hold your breath waiting to see how this election improves your life. It likely won’t. But it should, you deserve it.

    What we will get is what I’ll call the “D.C Bubble Cup.”

    The D.C Bubble Cup is a sort of intramural softball game, where all that matters is beating the other side. One party will spend all their energy on investigations and issuing subpoenas, while the other side spends its time playing defense. This game might be interesting for the political class in D.C, but it won’t improve the daily lives of middle-class families in Cleveland.

    What this new bipartisan Congress should care about is going to bat for everyday Americans. A middle-class family in Cleveland wants affordable health care, safe streets and an economy that works for them. Not too much, just a good, well paying job that allows them to raise their family, put food on the table and take a trip to Disneyland every once in awhile. This is not a lot to ask of the people we send to Washington. We send people to Congress to do the business of everyday Americans, not to play silly political games on our tax dollars.

    So let’s put the bats down and get to work. Let’s improve our infrastructure so folks can go to work without sitting on crowded freeways. Even better, let’s build a more efficient public transportation system. Let’s work with police departments to give them the resources they need to make our communities safer. We shouldn’t have to worry about our kids getting to and home from school safely. And, while we are at it, let’s make sure those schools provide our kids with a good education. They all have dreams too so let’s give them the tools needed to accomplish their goals.

    Let’s protect our borders and national security, while also welcoming new members into our communities that want to come here and live “the American dream.” Yes, both of these things can be done at the same time.

    So, let’s end this battle for the pointless “D.C Bubble Cup” and get to work on the issues everyday American care about. Congress, you just might be surprised at what we can accomplish if we all work together. Amazing technological advances, life-saving medical breakthroughs, award-winning pieces of literature. And, who knows, maybe some of our kids will go on to take your job in Congress. But, don’t worry, they will be smart and compassionate enough to make sure you can well afford to live comfortably in retirement.

    Now’s the time to put the bats down and end this battle for the “D.C Bubble Cup.” None of us care about that. In fact, we think it’s stupid.

      Hank

      Posted at Reply

      Hi Jason, thanks for the thoughts. I suspect one area people feel it will “change their life” is simply having an alternate party check in place against “absolute power” of any one party. That alone reduces many people’s stress level.

      As for me, the question remains out whether polarization is going to improve or worsen with the Dems controlling Congress. There is certainly an opportunity for it to improve, but will they seize it?

    Carr McClain

    Posted at Reply

    Polarization will worsen. Four points:

    1. It might have been different if we had gotten divided government 2 years ago. If faced with a Democratic Congress (at least one house) on day one, Trump might have seen an opportunity to be adored as a non-ideological dealmaker, triangulating between the parties a la Bill Clinton and getting tings done. Instead, Trump assumed the Presidency as head of one-party government, The only priority when you have that kind of power is keeping it, and his ego was stoked by turning the entire Republican Party, and by extension the entire Federal government, into his own creature. It’s too late to put that ship back into the dock, just like it was for his predecessor, who governed the same way his first two years.

    2. Pretend for a second that Nancy Pelosi and the Dems in the House even want to make deals. Who are they dealing with? The Republican caucus in the next Congress will be significantly less moderate that the previous one. The Republicans who resigned this cycle were disproportionately moderate (like Flake, Corker), and they were replaced either by Democrats or by more ideological Republicans. No bills of significance are likely to reach Trump’s desk, and he will run for re-election by digging in and once again trying to “energize the base,” which is all he knows how to do.

    3. The sorting of the country ideologically by party continues, not just in Congress but in the population al large. More and more people vote according to one thing only: red or blue. That will not change without the emergence of a 3rd party, and that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Why? Because, as I wrote to you some months back:

    4. We are, as a nation, basically content regarding the really big issues. The differences we are arguing about are small. Our differences on taxes and spending are marginal. We are not in a big war. We are in a few small ones, which serve to maintain the unassailable position of the military and its budget. The crime rate is the lowest in decades. The economy is not doing badly. Climate change? That will be solved by markets, and by government action elsewhere, in countries where governments do not have to deal with nuiscances like voters. The solutions to the controversial theoretical problem of climate change happen to be the same as the solutions to the obvious, incontrovertible problems of pollution and air quality. Every election, someone inevitably bemoans our low voter turnout, as though this is a sign of problems. That is a canard.. Voter turnout in four German elections from 1930 to 1933 averaged 84%. The next time voter turnout approaches that in the USA, it will be because we are in deep, existential trouble.

    So here come two years of gridlock. We’ll be fine.

      Hank

      Posted at Reply

      Hi Carr,

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

      Point-by-point,
      #1 I don’t doubt, but consider that all kinda moot now.

      #2 You have a very good point, of course. Takes two to tango. There is of course no guarantee that Pelosi herself is looking to collaborate. However, I believe she has some agenda items she wants accomplished; her own NorCal constituents are anxious for progress on several issues and two years of gridlock is not progress. Meanwhile there are at least a handful of issues on which there is cross-ideology support for change. A large majority of Americans want movement on gun violence. A large majority on all sides want improvements on ACA. The immigration issue is so complex (way more than people give it credit for) that there is a lot of room for incremental collaboration there as well. Both sides are highly supportive of infrastructure spending, which is actually still one of Trump’s unaddressed priorities. I think the resistance to collaboration is more likely to come from the GOP, but they have goals they cannot achieve without Dem votes, and both Pelosi and Trump know how to bargain. The question really comes down to which is more important to the sides, positioning for 2020 or actually getting shit done.

      #3 This sorting — which is well documented, I agree — doesn’t have me as worried as some other things, and it can reverse as quickly as it accelerated. Once a party realizes it cannot win with its sorted constituents, it will broaden its tent by way of survival. I expect the Dems to do that first, but ultimately the GOP will have to follow as well.

      #4 I don’t agree with you that none of these items is urgent. Climate change is not a small issue and the markets are not currently solving it; perhaps you see something changing there without assistance. The economy is not urgent in the short-term sense, agreed, but in the long-term sense of our middle class looking at declining opportunities and thereby quality of life, that is going to be the biggest issue of the next 20 years in my opinion, and the longer we wait to address it, the more painful will be our option set. Already we’re seeing rising angst around income inequality, which is the natural reaction to blame the “Haves.” That’s not good. The Haves are inviting their own pain if they don’t work today to address this issue, IMO.

      Anyway, thoughtful comments, thank you.

      Hank

      Posted at Reply

      Further to my discussion of declining middle class opportunity in responding to your point #4, want to quote a piece in the NY Times I just caught up on a second ago (though it’s from May):

      “In addition, when white working-class individuals do talk about their standard of living, it’s not necessarily those with the lowest incomes who speak the loudest. More important than how much they earn is their sense of how they are doing compared with the standard of living of their parents’ generation. Those who see themselves as downwardly mobile are the unhappiest.”

      And they have a right to be unhappy. Everyone yearns for improved standard of living. It’s almost one’s purpose in life. If the US economy has evolved such that big chunks of the work previously done by this strata of the populus is now being done in Asia or automated, then we can’t stick our heads in the sand about the obvious consequences of that. I am not proposing we stop outsourcing/automating, nor am I proposing we put the displaced on social welfare. I am simply observing we need to get our heads out of the sand about it and start wrestling with the issue.

      So yes, I think there are serious issues today that will not just right themselves. And the huge irony about this particular issue is that it would historically be a bread-and-butter issue for the Dems. But they looked right past it in 2016. And of all people, Donald Trump showed empathy toward it.

      Cats are sleeping with dogs….

    Hank

    Posted at Reply

    Writing before the recent midterm election day, Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) observed in The Hill “we are going to have a divided government, one way or another, and I cannot see how we can go forward and achieve our goals if we do not recognize explicitly, clearly, and unabashedly the need to compromise.”

    Exactly.

    Hank

    Posted at Reply

    Research by Michigan State psychology professor Zachary Neal echos the non-productive cycle of what my original post above described as choice (2).

    “While it’s hard to imagine incivility among Democrats and Republicans getting worse, it likely will, Neal said, especially if one party barely holds the majority….The Affordable Care Act is an example, Neal said. The Democrats held a slim majority — just enough to get the bill passed. Then the Republicans took control, again with a slim majority, and tried to repeal it.”

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Divisive partisanship is preventing us from accomplishing “jack.”

Americans’ propensity to quickly leap to negative prejudgements of ideological opponents poisons our ability to interact with the teammates we need to advance our personal and national goals.

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Thoughts from across the aisle...

“I mean, friends sit around their own kitchen table, and husbands and wives don’t agree with each other on every issue, but they don’t call each other names and throw things at each other. I think we need to do more of that, because the more you get to know somebody, at least while you can respect their differences, you’re not going to demonize them.”

— Cong. Steve Scalise (R-LA) shot with 3 others in 2017 by politically angry activist