Our constant invocation of the rhetoric of polarization and division can drain us of hope and blind us to new possibilities for unity. But there are opportunities for us to grow together, and we should embrace them.
The Left’s New Love for Subsidiarity
Subsidiarity has never been popular on the American Left. Perhaps it sounds too much like “states’ rights.” Perhaps the party of the Civil Rights Movement knows that change often has to come from the top.
But Trump is changing that. Bill de Blasio, the progressive mayor of New York, has swung decisively toward the local in his policy-making. He sounded like a Tea Party conservative when he said in November that “the danger to New York City isn’t here. It’s 200 miles down I-95.”
Part of this is normal party politics: the party in favor favors centralizing power until it’s out of power, and then it becomes “anti-Establishment.”
But the Democrats have long favored national over state politics, and that has weakened them in the age of Trump. As David Axelrod argues:
I wonder, sometimes, whether the Democratic Party has contributed to [a decline in local politics] by making the president and the federal government the fulcrum of so much, and suggesting that we can solve these problems from the top down. Democrats have ceded a lot of statehouses and legislatures. Congress has been gridlocked… What can the president do with the power that he has to try and create some progressive action? It just puts a lot of weight on the presidency, when maybe we have to be a bit more innovative.”
These days the party of FDR and LBJ cannot expect to get things done in D.C., unless of course it sweeps the Congress in 2018. But it would be a tragic victory were Democrats to win back the Hill and forget the promise of local and state politics. If nothing else, Democrats will want to have more of a say in the redistricting process after the 2020 Census than they did after 2010. And Democrats can engage in innovative policy-making at the local level, much as they have with the minimum wage.
Republicans should welcome this chance to work with Democrats on local-level policies. Indeed, the GOP has long proclaimed their love for local government and devolution. Here’s their chance to prove it.
The Press’ New Love for the Truth
In an age often skeptical of “truth,” it is amazing how robustly the press has championed that notion since Trump’s election.
Perhaps in the past the concept of truth wasn’t flashy enough: it was more edgy to talk about how truth was socially constructed in the name of power. But many in the media now feel obligated to reclaim the truth as a force for good, to re-examine their journalistic commitments to balance, objectivity and neutrality. As Christiane Amanpour said in 2016: “I believe in being truthful, not neutral.”
Many of the press’ antagonists, however, have failed to see how the rules of the game have changed. The phrase “fake news” has become banal, but it’s been effective at blunting our recognition that we all care about the truth, and that truth can be a new common ground.
Where conservatives – and conservative media – have attacked the press for their “fake news,” they should be applauding the press’ new-found love of truth. If diverse groups believe that democracy indeed depends upon truth, we should be fostering a conversation about what kinds of truths are essential to democratic politics, not calling each other liars.
The Right’s New Love for Sin
I saved this one for last.
I’m glad that so many conservatives can forgive Trump. I’m glad that Trump reminds so many that everyone deserves the occasional mulligan.
But if religious conservatives are serious about embracing sin and forgiveness, they need to spread that message beyond Trump. If conservatives can forgive Trump, they can forgive others, too. While the GOP is quick to jump on the many moral failings of the Democrats, they have had more than their fair share of David Vitters, Bob Packwoods, Rudy Giulianis, John Ensigns, Bob Barrs, Tim Murphys, Dennis Hasterts and now Donald Trump.
And their understanding of forgiveness needs to be more serious: forgiveness cannot substitute for repentance and reparation. Forgiveness cannot be a carte blanche to carry on as they were before. Political expediency is no substitute for contrition.
I’m not saying the Left has a monopoly on virtue or forgiveness. I am saying, however, that the GOP does Christian values no favors when it routinely fails to practice the values that it constantly criticizes the Left for flouting. It makes Christians looks like hypocrites, and only makes it more difficult for a skeptical public to take seriously the claims of religion and morality in the public square.
It would be far better for the GOP to concede to the Democrats that it often fails at the task that it sets itself, and that it has not cornered the market on virtue. If Republican exercised their defense of morality with more humility, and with more actions than words, the GOP would be in much better shape. And then we could all take the moral dimension of politics more seriously.