Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker recently announced his retirement, causing President Trump to start a "Twitter war," denouncing Corker as "gutless" for not running again. A frustrated but liberated Corker responded in kind, calling the White House under Trump an "adult day care center" in need of supervision.
All this is entertaining, but it doesn't help a public that struggles with a lack of respectable leadership at the highest levels of government. No wonder Congress' approval rating is miserable; meanwhile, only about 30 percent of Americans agree with President Trump.
USA Today recently reported on a Suffolk University poll that found 64 percent of Americans believe the United States is on the "wrong track" — up 21 points since the beginning of the year. At a recent forum in Denver, three millennial-aged Coloradans expressed, like others, their frustration with current political affairs, declaring themselves "formerly Republicans" and expressing enthusiasm for a Kasich-Hickenlooper ticket — the former a Republican governor from Ohio, the latter a Democratic governor from Colorado. This bipartisan ticket has the potential to attract both millennials and other sectors of the electorate disillusioned with the divisive and paralyzing rhetoric of the two major political parties.
A frustration has arisen in American politics, a frustration with both Democrats and Republicans, who seem to talk about important public issues but aren't able to act upon them. Republicans own the majority in Congress, with a Republican president and a conservative Supreme Court majority, yet important public issues such as health care reform and tax reform remain elusive. There's also an intolerance, both in Congress and out, that says, "If you don't agree with me politically, I don't like you any more."
Americans seem more polarized than ever, and that's bad for the U.S. — a place where compromise and working out differences have been hallmarks of democracy. Had the Founders refused to compromise, America may never have had a Constitution, now the longest surviving national constitution in world history. Had there been no compromise, major legislation that underpins the Bill of Rights might never have been passed and upheld by the Supreme Court.
So the silliness we see in today's politics may be a product of past inaction by policymakers, but it may also signal the natural evolution of democratic thought. Many Americans, especially young people today, lament undignified and self-serving behavior. That's what we see from President Trump and members of Congress who can't resist taking shots at others in politics — shots that only lessen the public's respect for office holders generally. While many may want to see the political system shaken up periodically, most Americans have disdain for petty comments that become public. While clever remarks may be titillating for some, for most who recognize that American voters believe Americans are best served by our "best and brightest" holding public office, such comments are distasteful.
For generations, America's leaders have been experienced and highly qualified, even as some have been smart but personally flawed. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a hero of World War II, later became a popular president. He knew how to compromise and didn't hate Democrats, frequently and regularly inviting political adversaries to the White House for meetings. President Franklin Roosevelt, to many, saved America from the Great Depression; he instituted governmental changes that have lasted to this day. President Richard Nixon's intellectual brilliance shone repeatedly, but his personality flaws got in the way of good policies and he ultimately resigned, leaving the Presidency to a "man of the House," Gerald Ford, who never served a full presidential term in his own right, but remained highly respected.
Americans young and old expect excellence, competency and results from those they elect. Numerous times, Americans expressed frustration with their 2016 Presidential choices, saying, in effect, "Of 330 million Americans, can't we do better than the two nominees?" A record number of "write-ins" in 2016 proved the point.
A spring 2017 survey showed that about 25 percent of millennials won't vote, believing that volunteering is more effective than casting a ballot for an office-seeker who may not implement policies satisfactory to their generation. Combined with the lack of civic education among Americans, it signals that our current polarization may last awhile, at least until a fresh batch of office-seekers enters office with assurances of enacting successful public policies.
Clever words and "tweet-worthy" responses may be humorous and sharpen debates among public officials, but they fail to advance the cause of good government, or restore confidence in public officials to responsibly solve the many public problems of the day.
Fewer "tweets" and zingers, and more enactment of sound public policies, will help restore public confidence and lessen our polarized state of affairs. ♦