Why We Need to Reach Across the Aisle

Corruption. We’ve seen it on both sides; establishment members of both parties have long been known to take dirty money from lobbying corporations for their personal gain and to the detriment of the American society as a whole. I was having a discussion recently where it was brought up that the two parties are hardly two groups with separate interests right now but instead one group of corporate sponsors that will always hold the interests of the wealthy class over those of the middle and lower classes. The country has been slowly waking up to this reality though. Two of the top three candidates in the current Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have raised around $50 million from grassroots donors in the last quarter alone. The central issue they are both running on? Wealth inequality. While corruption has a running history in our government and is still present in many ways there is a movement interested in the well-being of everyone and especially the lower and middle classes that has been gaining traction and is starting to become unignorable and arguably now has an equal say with the corrupted establishment members. In a time of the greatest political polarization our country has experienced, however, even this movement doesn’t seem to be enough to get things done. So how is it that we get past the largest obstacle of our modern political and governmental scene: polarization? While the answer may seem obvious, reach across the aisle, it is, apparently, ridiculously complicated in action. However complicated it may be, though, it is the only thing we can hope for and do if we want to actually solve the largest problems facing us today.

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Graphic showing how often members of parties have voted together over time (gray lines show shared voting). Clio Andris, David Lee, Marcus J. Hamilton, Mauro Martino, Christian E. Gunning, John Armistead Selden, in PLOS ONE

It’s a harsh reality that the donors to all of the establishment members of both parties have the same interests: Keep themselves rich. Part of the problem that has kept these people and their influence behind the curtains has been the focus on certain social issues and the division between the opinions of each party on them. While this is a clear dividing line between the ideologies and the people who consider themselves voters for each party it isn’t everything that is going on and, in fact, the rich couldn’t care less about these issues because, for the most part, they have no effect on their wealth. So really the game of the wealthy is to pick a side of certain issues which they may or may not care about so that they can identify with a party and donate to those representatives and stay rich. And a lot of these people and corporations, regardless of if they actually do care about the issues, are more concerned with their own wealth and that has become glaringly obvious in the policy decisions of their puppets, I mean, our representatives. While this has been a reality for a long time, for the first time in decades our population is coming together to show the power of collective movement and lifting up grassroots candidates. Now that we actually have representatives for ourselves and not just the wealthy, a voice, we have more power than we’ve had in a while to create change but we are still running into the problem of polarization.

While certain social issues are still causing major division between the parties there are representatives getting elected on both sides from grassroots campaigns that are actually interested in representing the people and helping shape the best country they can for everyone. This means that there are people on both sides of the aisle that are sharing the same core values of actually listening to and helping the people. These core values are where we need to start from when reaching across the aisle. If representatives were to instead look at core values and try to create friendships and connections across the aisle rather than focusing on the issues and values they disagree on a conversation could at least be started and at that point, things are way more likely to get done. By focusing on what polarizes us we won’t ever get anything done because those conversations end with people further entrenched in their views. Instead, we need to focus on where we connect and not on which party we are a part of and the difference in views between those parties.

The idea of a party system is becoming outdated. While there may be some value in it for elections so we can narrow down candidates for the general election, we need a more dynamic and value-focused approach at actually running the country once our representatives are chosen. Certain values and social issues may hold the two-party system up, and perhaps that is a good thing for the purpose of the general election process but members of Congress and voters need to realize that these social issues, while important, aren’t everything and aren’t always the most pressing or important issues we have to deal with. For instance, I think it is much more important to have a national conversation on how we are going to make sure people aren’t dying of starvation in our own country and how it might be more important to focus on that before we try to help people in other countries. This is a human issue, not a party issue but instead, discussions of impeachment are taking the focus of our national conversation which sprouts directly from the clear polarization in our country. At some point, we will still want to talk about the divisive social issues and at that point, we can use the connections we’ve built and the same strategies we used to build them to try to find the best solutions to those problems as well without it creating more polarity.

In order to get anything done and to actually start focusing on what’s important, we need to reach across the aisle. We need to have the hard discussions in which we know we’ll run into strong opposition to even some of our most central views. Instead of becoming outraged and pinning the other side as the enemy though we need to try to understand where they are coming from and find any similarities we can. Who knows? Maybe they’ll actually bring up good points we hadn’t thought about before and that all goes into making the best, more informed and well-rounded decisions for the American people.

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