American Dysfunction: Where Do We Go From Here?


John F. Phillips

Yesterday’s vote by the Electoral College should mark the end of the nightmare that has been the election of 2020. Baring some last ditch procedural challenge to the final vote tally when the 117th Congress certifies the vote on January 6, 2021, Joseph Biden will be sworn in as the next President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

After such a contentious election, where do we go from here? How does the United States move forward from the chaos that has characterized and politicized 2020 to the point where the country has basically split into two camps on the left and the right, with neither side trusting each other because of the fear that each side has with respect to what the other side may do?

I don’t want to rehash the past year. We all know what happened. I view such a re-litigation of things we cannot change as wasted time. Since 2016, we have been re-litigating the election of 2016 and I think that has contributed to much of the fear, hatred, division, violence, and distrust that has brought us to where we are today. I want to look forward.

I’ve been involved in politics as a participant, observer, teacher, and commentator since I was 16 years old and stuffed envelopes for Bobby Kennedy in 1968. I started as a Democrat, started voting for Republicans in the 1980’s, and then became more of a right/center independent because I believed both parties had lost their way and had become captive to bases who were a minority in each party, but punched way above their weight in terms of influencing the philosophical direction of each party in ways that were morally bankrupt and contrary to what the vast majority of the country wanted.

I’ve been around the block a few hundred times in terms of politics. I think I have some insights that could be useful as we move forward from the current mess we find ourselves in. So where do we go from here? For whatever it’s worth, I offer my thoughts.

First, President Donald Trump, for the good of the nation and to begin the healing of our institutions and our country, needs to concede. Now. President Trump had every right to contest the election if he thought he was wronged. That is his legal right and he exercised it. I’ve been on the losing side many times and it really hurts. In 1972, as an 18 year old college student working in my first real campaign and so idealistic that it’s comical, my guy George McGovern lost 61%-37% and won a whopping 17 electoral votes against Richard Nixon, McGovern even lost in his home state of South Dakota. Rejection stinks.

That being said, President Trump also has an obligation to the oath that he took when he assumed office, to uphold the Constitution and recognize that the courts, including the Supreme Court, have exercised their constitutional responsibilities and rejected his legal challenges. Further attempts to reverse the outcome will only serve to further divide the country and create more fear and distrust. If President Trump truly loves America as much as he says he does, and his supporters believe that he does, for their sake and the for the good of the country, end this now.

Second, Democrats, especially more progressive Democrats, should not take an “I told you so” victory lap. They haven’t earned that right, they just haven’t. This election was not a validation of the progressive Democratic agenda, far from it and the down ballot results support that conclusion.

The vast majority of the 74,000,000 people who voted for President Trump are good, hard working, and yes, educated people who love this country. They are not racists, white supremacists, or uneducated “deplorables” who look down on others who aren’t like them. These are people who believe in what they consider traditional American values and have worked to build their own version of the American Dream. They believe in things like personal responsibility, family, community, helping your neighbor, and serving your country and being part of something larger than themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, many who voted for President Trump believe that government has an important role to play in terms of helping people who cannot help themselves, raising all boats because collectively, we become a better country and society when all do well. They believe in and support high quality public education because they also realize that access to high quality education is the great equalizer. In rural communities especially, the local high school is the anchor of these small communities and good schools, in all of ways that schools are defined as good, are a source of immense and deep pride.

How do I know this? I’m part of their community and, despite our political differences, these people are my friends and my peers and I deeply treasure those friendships.

Thirty years ago, Missouri was strongly Democratic. Now, Democrats have no chance, except in urban areas like St. Louis, and to a lesser extent, Kansas City. Why? Because these good people believe, like I do, that the Democratic Party sold its soul and quit working for people like them. Instead, they see a Democratic Party that has sold them out in order to establish a system of globalism, big government and the welfare state, an east and west coast elitist and entitled party that has cost them their jobs and brought condemnation of their way of life.

Whether this is true is an entirely different argument, but the perception has become the reality, and because of this, many of these former Democrats believe that the Republican Party is a better option for them. Democrats have created this mess and it is up to them to clean it up. Barack Obama is correct. Policies like “defund the police”, “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for all” are nonstarters for the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions. Democrats need to quit living in the universe of liberal Twitter and its closed confirmation bias. That universe isn’t the reality of most Americans, especially rural Americans..

Third, every person who is a Republican or voted for President Trump has to stop the madness and quit believing that every Democrat or person who voted for Joe Biden is some goddamned socialist or communist who hates the United States and wants to turn the country into some socialist utopia. Like the vast majority of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats reject the far left progressive agenda and believe in the same traditional American values as the majority of Republicans do.

Believe it or not, there are many center left, moderate, and center right Democrats who were not Barack Obama worshipers and didn’t support Joe Biden. Many see the Biden administration as Obama 2.0 and have a very sceptical view of the future. The fact that Mr. Biden has selected a number of former Obama officials and advisors to his administration has only reinforced this feeling.

Many centrists and center right Democrats and former Democrats have many of the same perceptions of the modern Democratic Party as their Republican counterparts. Many believe that progressive Democrats want government to intrude in every aspect of daily life and that government has become too big and invasive and want no part of that. Most reject the progressive agenda and yearn for the days of real prosperity grounded on a foundation of hard work and individual initiative, a return to traditional values, equal opportunity and justice for all, social mobility, economic security, and the attainment of the American Dream. They don’t want to be part of some grand socialist experiment; they don’t want to be France or Denmark. They aren’t going to take away your guns, close your church, indoctrinate your children, take away your freedom, or steal your babies. They want many of the same things that centrist and center right Republicans desire.

The bottom line is that we, as Americans have a lot more in common than we want to admit. We all want economic opportunity, law and order, civil discourse rather than violent protest, and a meaningful balance of individual liberty and social order.

There is a lot of anger, distrust, and fear out there on both sides. I’ve never seen the country this divided and I lived through Vietnam and Watergate. We have a lot of challenges that need to be addressed, with the pandemic, economic recovery, and restoring faith in our government and institutions at the top of the list. The differences between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives on how we should address these problems run deep and cut to the very heart of what America and what it means to be an American is all about. America is in a very dark place right now and the future of our democracy is in doubt if we don’t get a handle on this. Despite what many want to believe, this division didn’t begin with Donald Trump. It took a long time to get here and it will take time to turn it around.

The good news is that we’ve been here before. History is full of examples of the United States facing dire situations and overcoming the adversity those situations created. We as Americans have in the past and will continue to step up. We have too much at stake not to.

As the old saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. We can do this, we can come together again, but it’s going to take a recognition that all of us deeply love this country and that the deep divisions between us can be overcome if we care enough, discuss our differences, embrace our diversity and instead of hate and distrust, we embrace understanding, trust and, yes, love and acceptance of each other. We are all in this together and, if we want to remain the country that we all love, we have to put aside our differences and work together to bring about the healing and resurgence that this great country desperately needs.

As the old Youngbloods song from the 1960’s says, “c’mon people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now!”

Are you in? How can we begin to come together?

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