Many pundits predict American political warfare will worsen in 2019 and grow more ruthless in 2020–our next presidential election year. The swamp that candidate Donald Trump promised to drain is expanding.
James Astill, Washington bureau chief for The Economist, wrote: “As America approached the mid-point of President Donald Trump’s first term, sober commentators suggested it had not been so divided since the 1850s.”
Political disagreement is the heart of America’s way of governing. Diversity of opinion makes our country strong as long as those elected put our country, not their political ambition, first.
Those we elect must be willing to put their election on the line to do what’s best for our nation. The late President George HW Bush did when he supported tax increases to lift our country from recession. He broke his 1988 campaign promise (“Read My Lips: No New Taxes”) and lost his 1992 re-election bid.
In the early 1970s, I was a congressional press aide in Washington. I worked for a two-term Montana Republican elected at a period when Democrats had large Congressional majorities.
It was a time when President Richard Nixon was being impeached for the break-in at Democrat headquarters in the Watergate Building. Our nation was severely strained and Nixon eventually resigned.
During the darkest days of Watergate, Alexander M. Haig Jr., a four-star Army general served as White House chief of staff. He provided stability and a sense of a confidence when the president was under siege.
On Capitol Hill while Nixon’s impeachment was center stage, Congress conducted its business. Many good pieces of legislation passed during the Watergate crisis.
For example, the northeast railroads were crumbling and the Penn Central, the region’s largest, was bankrupt. The track was so dilapidated that railcars derailed at speeds less than 15 mph. Federal intervention was necessary to keep freight moving. Without a robust railroad network, millions of jobs would be lost and people would go without essentials.
Congressmen Richard Shoup (R-Mont.) and Brock Adams (D-Wash.) were part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who helped write and pass restructuring legislation. Their bill provided interim funding for the bankrupt railroads and created Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) as a government-funded private company. Nixon signed the bill in 1974 and today those railroads are our transportation lifeline.
Failure to act meant coal from West Virginia would not reach power plants supplying New York City, Boston and even Washington, D.C. During that time, electricity in the northeast primarily came from burning coal.
Today, we have crumbling infrastructure needing immediate attention. Finding common ground and passing legislation is essential this year.
Here are ways to help drain the morass along the Potomac.
First, dial back the ridicule. Americans are tired of the daily political bickering. Get off Twitter and out from behind the television cameras. Turn 30-second sound snippets into quiet constructive actions.
Second, forget about who gets credit. If the President has a good idea, Congress shouldn’t automatically dismiss it—and visa versa.
Third, people who serve with integrity are neither saints when they agree with you nor scoundrels when they don’t. They are people working hard to benefit all of us.
Fourth, the President should use the upcoming State of the Union speech to unify the country. Congress, likewise, should look for ways to take those recommendations and work together. Make things happen like they did with the bill restructuring the northeast railroads.
Finally, the late Bush 41’ attempted to make America a “kinder and gentler” place and 2019 is the year to do just that. The results will be surprisingly uplifting for all of us.
(DON C. BRUNELL/Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.)