When Partisanship Trumps Patriotism

Over the last decade, partisanship has mutated from bitter bickering and point scoring into the dangerous polarization of the U.S. This political rift is punishing red, blue, black, white and everyone in between. Divisiveness and gridlock have taken a turn for the worse with Donald Trump's call for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails and for his decidedly un-presidential attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim Gold Star parents of the deceased Army Captain, Humayun Khan. With this being the latest and perhaps most flagrant misstep from the Republican presidential candidate, the litany of politically toxic statements including building walls along the Mexican border, banning Muslims from entering the U.S., withdrawing the U.S. from NATO, and many other assertions, it is now time to believe the inherent national and global danger posed by these electoral promises. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. The blithe exhortation for Russia to find the lost Hillary emails, along with the callous and tone-deaf response by the Trump campaign to the Khan family proves that even patriotism no longer unites us in our politically extreme times.

While Trump has taken partisan rhetoric to new and dangerous heights, his candidacy and improbable rise to prominence are symptomatic of deeper fissures in America's political and social fabric. Bitter partisanship and obstructionism has marked the last eight years of President Obama's term in office. From our inability to pass a national budget in 2011, for which the U.S. lost its AAA credit rating, to our inability to form a consensus around a series of domestic and global threats, it is clear that matters of national interest, especially those that do not get resolved in the four-year electoral cycle, are hardly prioritized. Our elected leaders need a new Grand Bargain as urgently as our country needs a new social compact. The ballot box in November 2016, like every election before, is our opportunity to cast an image of what we want our country to be. But make no mistake, while the outcome of this election is dire, all levels of government need new forms of accountability and public alignment. For this to happen, the public needs to get off the sidelines. Passive Facebook activism will not address the urgent challenges we face and the equally urgent, yet fleeting, opportunities we have to shape our future and our country's role in the world. The ballot box is the one place to drive lasting change and there is no voter's remorse or do-overs in a democracy.

For a country, even one as great as the U.S., to be competitive in the 21st century, a decent public education can no longer rely on a ZIP code lottery. Infrastructure must be built, modernized and enhanced to withstand the strain, speed and interconnections of domestic and global commerce. Public safety must apply to everyone, everywhere and freedom to bear arms can no longer trump freedom from mass casualty events, which have been visited upon our most vulnerable in Sandy Hook and our most patriotic in Fort Hood. For the U.S. economy to reach its full potential, equal pay for equal work has to move from being a remote campaign promise to an urgent priority worthy of implementation. In our times, which are increasingly being defined by man-made risk, global threats do not recognize borders. The vile ideology espoused by ISIS through its deft social media strategy, like Zika-spreading mosquitoes marching north due to climate change, can only be defeated through a resolute global response. U.S. leadership and engagement on the international stage, including positive perceptions around the world about "Brand America," are needed now more than ever.

Looking for who to blame for the paralysis that has seized our discourse is unimportant. We can no longer look for causality, we must now respond to the effects of years of partisanship, special interests, and an electoral process where politicians spend more time worrying about reelection than legislating with their constituents in mind. If anything, the structural flaws in our democracy are starting to show in some insidious ways. Chief among these flaws is the two-party oligarchy parceled out in gerrymandered electoral districts, the outsized role of special interests and campaign-finance, and no term limitations in Congress and the Senate. Increasingly the American people are being left behind and the American Dream is as fleeting as it has ever been.

The walls of Fortress America will provide little comfort if the country remains on a perilous course of political in-fighting and social tension, which is increasingly playing out on our streets. Police violence against black Americans who suffer a heavy-handed justice system, like reprisals against the police, which are becoming dangerously calculated as we saw in Baton Rouge and Dallas, are but the latest examples of violence from which we have become desensitized. Sadly, unless we drive real social change and compromise, the next occupant of the White House, like the current one, will have to continue consoling the nation following senseless mass casualty events.

We the people cannot personify in the president all of the hopes, challenges and aspirations of a fractured nation. This level of accountability for mending the country and for driving long range change does not belong in the White House or Washington, D.C., but rather in each and every person across the U.S.