Donna Brazile: In whom do we trust?
We’re past the July 4 celebrations and the All-Star break. NFL training camps have started. Congress is poised to recess for August — the pause before the storm leading up to the midterm elections.
“Pause” is the operative word.
Right now, I want to pause and consider where we are and where we’re going. I want to pause and consider the state of our national dialogue, especially as we discuss important issues like the crisis at the border, the turmoil in Gaza and the tragedy in Ukraine.
Have you ever watched a baseball or football game without the play-by-play and expert analysis? Without it, the game seems boring. And you can miss a lot of the action.
But we expect the commentators to be accurate and to be civil, even while being critical.
Do those of us who do political play-by-play or analysis help the reader, or viewer, know what’s going on, to see deeper into the issues? Do we try to strengthen the national dialogue and improve its quality?
Does the quality of our civic discourse not reflect the quality of the conversation in Washington?
Having paused and reflected, I think we need to change the tone.
Analysis of the past should lead us toward choices — choices that help us form “a more perfect Union.” In sports, they go on to the next play; in politics we should be finding solutions, together.
But we can’t move forward and we can’t find solutions until we do two things: acknowledge that we as a nation are changing and change how we talk about each other.
Accommodating and managing change is built into our federal system. Thomas Jefferson wrote (and these words are inscribed on a panel in the Jefferson Memorial): “ ... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind ... with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
Our federal system recognizes that people are, almost universally, a mixture of good and bad. That’s its beauty, and the truth it works from.
The Founders created an electoral system that is responsive to change. They designed institutions that, through checks and balances, would be flexible, that would allow change, but would also encourage deliberation and due diligence.
Change should come, but not all change should come quickly or easily.
Elections — fair elections — are the vehicle of change. The people’s voice is heard through elections; the pundits’ favorite term, “mandate,” becomes manifest through elections.
Our Constitution, our electoral system, our institutions require trust — trust in the principles behind them, trust in our foundations, trust that if we pay attention, if we hold each other and our leaders accountable, and if we communicate, we can move forward toward forming that “more perfect Union.”
But there’s a hysterical fear of change in this land. It’s undermining our trust in each other and it’s corroding our foundations and institutions. Those who subscribe to that fear are destroying the Constitution — through the very words and deeds by which they say are saving it.
This fear is fueled by an infatuation with incivility and a monstrous hubris. Jefferson said that we chose self-government because we did not find angels in the form of kings to govern us. Those driven by this fear of change and mistrust of others have gone to the opposite extreme: seeing elected officials as devils.
Dialogue, conversation, compromise, argument — in its truest sense of testing ideas — cannot take place when those on the other side, those with a different position, or perspective or ideology, are not to be trusted — ever.
The greatest danger to our nation is a political strategy that says your party must never say anything good about the President, ever. That your party cannot cooperate with or acknowledge the concerns or values of the opposition party, ever. That everyone has to approve of everything you believe, always.
The result of such absolutism is not refinement, but betrayal —betrayal of “we the people” and betrayal of the ideals being trumpeted. Besmirching the reputation of others soils our own.
We must change how we talk to and talk about each other. We must find a way to get the gutter-language out of our national conversations.
In his first inaugural address, Jefferson said: “... let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of (just) as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
He knew whereof he spoke.
The growing intolerance of diversity of opinion is corrupting us. Let us, as citizens, as commentators, as analysts, as journalists, adopt a different course. Let us heed the words of Benjamin Franklin who, in addressing the Continental Congress to adopt the Constitution, said, “the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others.”
Instead of assuming we, or our party, or our sect, is in possession of “all truth,” let’s give each other — and ourselves — the benefit of the doubt.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.