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Romer: The value of pragmatism in a partisan world

Is pragmatism lost? And if so, what is an unaffiliated moderate (we actually exist) to do in today’s hyperpartisan environment?

A Pew report released last year, based on nearly 10,000 interviews, underscores the raw antagonism that now exists across political lines, despite broadly expressed desires for civility.

The Pew report amounts to a snapshot of public attitudes and there are a few broader conclusions to draw from Pew’s report. One is that the polarization highlighted in the report did not start with Donald Trump. It has been a long time in the making.

Trump is the most polarizing president in the country’s history, measured by his approval rating among Republicans vs. Democrats. But the second most polarizing was Barack Obama and the third most was George W. Bush.

Many Americans decry these conditions and lament that political leaders do not do more to change them. But those same people contribute to the divisions, causing partisan allegiances to fracture relationships at the level of the family, neighborhood and community.

The long-standing bipartisan Battleground Poll  reported late last year that almost 9 in 10 Americans say they are “frustrated by the uncivil and rude behavior of many politicians.” About as many Americans say that “compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders.”

At the same time, however, the Battleground Poll found that more than 8 in 10 say they are “tired of leaders compromising my values and ideals” and want leaders “who will stand up to the other side.”

The October 2019 Civility Poll found that 8 in 10 voters want both “compromise and common ground” as well as leaders who “will stand up to the other side,” a conflicting contrast. As well, the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war. On a 0-100 scale with 100 being “edge of a civil war,” the mean response is 67.23.

This partisan divide is not conducive to solving problems. Ask yourself: do hyperpartisan views actually improve our community? Probably not. And you might be contributing to the divide if:

  • You work to dehumanize the other group and think of the other side as not only opponents but actually enemies.
  • You vote a straight party line without researching candidates.
  • You spend more time delegitimizing the other party than extoling the virtues of your party.
  • You believe everything you see on your favorite news network.
  • You think your party is always right, and the opposing party is always wrong.
  • You support candidates who run more negative ads about your opponent than positive ads about their own positions.
  • You find yourself believing the conspiracy theory du jour.
  • You think your party has a monopoly on patriotism. 
  • You are an unconditional supporter of a politician and can’t find any fault with their positions. 
  • You believe it is “us” versus “them.”
  • You think this is aimed at your party.

Yes, I am bothered by the toxic partisanship in the country. I also believe that someday solutions are going to matter again and that pragmatic problem solving and compromise should be valued.

When voting, recognize that partisan politics are not useful to actually getting things done. We need to focus our efforts on finding solutions to the problems our communities face, and we must work toward the future with less rancor and more pragmatism. Our challenges — at a national, state, and local level — are not solved by one party or the other; they are solved by working together.  


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