Senator George Mitchell, the architect of the Northern Ireland peace agreements, spoke at the SCMA Conference the Saturday just before the election. Not knowing or making any assumptions about who would win, Senator Mitchell addressed what we, and the next president, need to do next to help bring us together and solve some urgent problems. He stressed the importance of listening to opposing views, and working together to find consensus on policy issues. Our political system is supposed to encourage that kind of cooperation because our system of separation of powers, unlike a parliamentary system, rarely puts one party in total control of the government. So what tends to result when the two parties fail to cooperate is political gridlock. That just makes voters even more disgusted with the political process, and even less interested in cooperation. It’s a vicious cycle.
Since the election, I see few signs of adversaries reaching out to work with political opponents. President Obama has been gracious and cooperative, but he is about to surrender power. On the Trump side, the names being floated for Cabinet and White House positions do not inspire much confidence that the Trump White House will act in a conciliatory manner. And on the Democratic side, we are already hearing much talk about engaging in the same kind of total opposition to anything the president proposes that the Republicans have engaged in for the past eight years.
While the instinct for payback is natural and understandable, those combative tendencies are not necessarily politically smart, or good for the country. Talk of complete resistance to anything the new government proposes may only increase its authoritarian impulses. Instead we still need to make an effort to listen to opposing points of view, and find points of agreement where we can. We need to have faith that respect for the rule of law will be strong enough to prevail against the most potentially dangerous proposals of the incoming administration. And the new administration needs to make good on early promises to unify the country.