Let’s not exaggerate historical facts, however, as the Republicans have seen fit to do repeatedly; this narrative is not new for the 2016 election. It is becoming increasing clearer, though, as November creeps ever closer and more is revealed through the election process, that the current state of American politics is one of which the likes of Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton would not be proud.
American politics has always been founded upon and progressed through discourse of opposing viewpoints. The Founders themselves argued tirelessly over the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the core documents guiding our American democratic experiment. There were always contending ideas for how our government should be organized, and these have continued throughout our history.
However, these arguments were always based on a difference of ideas, of vision. Both sides had the common good in mind, and both recognized that trait in the other side, even if they disagreed on how to best serve it.
As we saw in Cleveland and throughout the previous eight years of political deadlock and polarization, the two parties face each other with very little common ground, each vilifying the other as blind to fact, irresponsible, corrupt, and dangerous, to the point of hatred and isolation in two distinctive and opposing camps. It’s reminiscent of the two scenes in Pocahontas where both the Native Americans and Englishmen paint each other as “savages.”
Looking through the eight years under President Obama, the Republicans in Congress took every opportunity to stonewall any possible legislative achievement for the Democrats and tried sixty times to repeal its hallmark law, the Affordable Care Act, just because they didn’t want their opponents to be able to run on it in the future. They’ve held the government hostage during two debt-ceiling crises, a debilitating budget sequestration, and even shut it down over the federal budget.
Congressional inaction is not new, albeit it more pronounced and drastic in recent memory. However, a trend is apparent that common ground between the two parties was never found, not because it’s not there, but because it was never sought out. President Obama did originally come into office seeking to work with Republicans, but then eventually gave up as it became clear that the Republicans’ top priority was to “deny President Obama a second term,” no matter the cost.
The sheer amount of demonization through misinformation and emotional appeals to the lesser angels of the American people has poisoned the well of American politics, more so than ever before. And it’s not just the Republicans, either. The Democratic National Convention next week will most likely cast Hillary Clinton, its presumptive nominee, as the responsible choice in November and Trump as a demagogue at the head of a party off the tracks which threatens the future of American democracy.
Many voters on both sides of the aisle are not too pleased with the options the two parties have produced; both Clinton and Trump have net negative favorability ratings that are at historic highs, as shown in the snapshot of a CBS News/New York Times poll. They’re almost as bad as Congress’s approval ratings, which currently stand at about 14 percent. Many see going to the voting booth as a decision between two evils rather than two visions for the future common good of our nation.
This is clearly not the representative democracy that the Founders envisioned at the birth of our country. Many in the political arena today use the supposed “Founder’s intentions” and the Constitution as the end-all-be-all of how our government should function; however, there’s hardly any reference in these circles to the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, invaluable time capsules left to us by our forefathers outlining the reasoning behind their actions and the contentious debates they had over them. Surely these essays should be useful in characterizing how the Founders wanted our political system to look and run.
Throughout these documents lie warnings of factious politicians and a shift away from human reason, virtue, and respect in politics as the opposite of the original intentions of our democratic system. They show a defiant commitment to arguing the ideas before them rather than “winning” through the political destruction of their opponents. The arguments each side put forward for their ideas were not “vote for us because we’re not them,” which, in many voters’ minds, is the standard modus operandi today.
Elizabeth McCoy February 26, 2013 Leisha Meade TF 9:30-10:45 Were the Founding Fathers Democratic Reformers? I do not think the founding fathers were democratic reformers. Howard Zinn makes a very compelling argument, focusing on the politicians’ wealthy backgrounds and slavery-centered lifestyles. Due to their education, the founding fathers seemed to write the Constitution based and around their own experiences, and influenced in ways that were beneficial to the rich and elite of society, but not the poor. Slaves, women, and the poor were not represented well in the Constitution, as Zinn points out, and the founding fathers, as wealthy land owners, gained several rights and liberties from their Constitution. They also enforced a strong central government, in order to prevent rebellions such as the one instituted by Daniel Shays; this change in governmental tactics would also prove to protect the rich. Interpretations of these historical events that were once accepted change frequently, due