Just Sayin’: Today’s politics are harming us – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Regardless of our political inclination, it’s clear that extremism is dominating policy making. Our feelings are so strong that there is no room for other views. With no interest in negotiation or compromise in our legislative bodies, the power brokers often shut the door to discussion even within the party group.

Voters and legislators are positive that their positions represent what is best for the people. The problem is “what people.” The problem is that no one seems to consider the “other people.” It’s like a war, or a sporting event, where there are winners and losers.

Does anyone care about the people on the other side? Does anyone look at a policy and ask “how does this create harm and to whom?” Does anyone think to look at ways to mitigate that pending harm? Is winning at any cost a worthy strategy for a caring nation?

The Founding Fathers, in designing a Constitution of/by/for the people, struggled with many of the very issues that we face today. By frank and open discussion, they carefully considered the ramification of their positions. They knew that they could not resolve all the underlying differences. Large states vs. small. Slave states vs. Free. Agriculture vs. Industrial. States Rights vs. Federalism.

Had each delegate fought for everything that he wanted, we would still be governed by the Articles of Confederation — readily acknowledged to be wholly inadequate for a democratic republic. But they asked the hard questions. They bent where they had to, for the sake of the nation and the common good. Most of them accepted being beaten down on some preferred positions, realizing the importance of the gift that they were about to bestow on an emerging, diverse nation.

Today, 236 years later, this experiment in democracy has weathered internal and external attacks, and stands as a shining light in the face of growing totalitarianism and intolerance of diversity. However, the greatest tests to sustaining this democracy are now before us. We face a crippling intolerance of ideas, philosophies and needs that are not in line with our own. We are building silos of communication sources that ensure that these differences are filtered out of our hearing. We willingly succumb to propositions that are not supported by reality.

Today’s “my way or the highway” mentality rejects the aim of serving the common good, but rather willingly inflicts harm upon any excluded group. It is quite clear that our legislating bodies, at all levels, have fallen into this trap — to win at all costs — without consideration of the harm inflicted upon the “losers.”

How have we lost the promise to be a nation for all? Do we actually have a government “of the people, by the people, for the people?” Can we still rightfully call ourselves the ”United States?”

Surely, the differences between us are not new. The challenges to bridge the divide go back well before the exodus from foreign lands where justice and inclusion were not written into law. But, some time ago, we pledged to be a nation that would bridge this divide. That dedication has dissolved into petty politics and personal vendettas. Lost is the obligation to serve the common good and to do no harm.

As I peruse my extensive news sources, I see this at all levels of government, and by all political persuasions. The Speaker of the House is threatened with expulsion by his own party if he does not support the extreme right. The California Legislature spews out bill after bill that impose policies that are well out of reach of the localities and are insensitive to the needs and rights of the locals. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) insists on using a weighted voting model that mutes the voices of the smaller communities.

The current tendency toward animus and inaction is harmful in two ways. Narrow-minded selfish legislation leaves large segments of the population in a losing position. Worse yet, is the failure to make any progress on burning issues, bringing harm to the greater masses.

A key goal of politics is to promote reciprocal concessions. Our compulsive roadblock on social issues diverts energy and resources from critical issues such as poverty, homelessness, immigration, etc. This, too, is harmful.

It’s all about who can muster the power to impose their will. It’s politics at its worst. Frankly, I’m at a loss for how to climb out of this crevasse. I’d like to say that we ignore party preferences and support candidates who would pledge to support policies that are based on debate and compromise. Policies that promise to do no harm and to support the common good. But that would apparently be like swimming upstream during a flood.

As a nation of elected executives and legislators, of a strong judiciary, and an empowered voting public, it is imperative that we work to resist the natural inclination to defend one’s position at all costs. We need to recognize and accept the value of mutually achieved accommodations — to acknowledge that compromise need not be thought of as capitulation.

We are at an inflection point. Unless we are ready to accept a totalitarian leadership with widespread exclusion of the masses (that means us), we must, with pen and ballot, exercise the power granted by the Constitution to promote candidates who would break the deadlock and commit to a platform based on justice and inclusion. A platform to support the common good and to do no harm.

A Rancho Bernardo resident, Levine is a retired project management consultant and the author of three books on the subject.

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