POLITICS

A Congress America wants and needs - a divided and unpopular government hurts us at home and overseas

Gary Shapiro

The two major political parties are not giving Americans what they want. Recent polls scream that Americans want politicians from both parties to work together to solve major national problems. For example, a late June Fox News poll found 79 percent of Americans believe the political debate in the U.S. is "overheated and dangerous," while only 18 percent consider it "heated, but healthy.” And according to a recent Harvard-Harris poll, fewer than 40 percent of voters view top congressional leadership favorably.

Yet some in party leadership – on both sides of the aisle – remain deaf to what Americans want. They have shown zero interest in cooperating on health care, infrastructure, tax reform, entitlement reform or any major issue. They insist on party discipline – meaning straight party-line voting. They are like rabid sports fans, only their teams are their political parties. They demand absolute fealty from their fellow members, focusing on scoring points against the other party while caring little for the national interest.

These party leaders are akin to crude tribal chiefs. Every fight is vicious. Every battle is personal. They lead by fear, control by money and dole out top committee seats to the faithful. They are leading our nation from greatness to decline.

Resistance to bipartisanship has reached absurd levels. Some dyed-in-the-wool Republicans are even being attacked now as insufficiently conservative solely because they joined with Democrats to make hearing aids less costly to millions of Americans.

These party leaders are akin to crude tribal chiefs. Every fight is vicious. Every battle is personal. They lead by fear, control by money and dole out top committee seats to the faithful. They are leading our nation from greatness to decline.

Of course, these leaders are spurred on by constituent extremists. The "resist" movement wants every proposal by President Trump and congressional Republicans defeated. No compromise is allowed. Bolstered by MSNBC, The New York Times and websites like HuffPost, the "progressive" movement resists collaboration with Republicans and actively encourages disruptions at Republican town hall meetings. For example, the leftist Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy recently declared:

"Any Democrat seeking to reach across the aisle with members of the GOP or refusing to legislatively counter their attacks on our communities cannot be seen as qualified to carry out their responsibilities. If candidates that have refused to unite against the GOP are presented in the 2020 election cycle, they will not receive support or votes from the minority majority. Only candidates that actively block the efforts of the GOP will be considered."

The “resist” movement’s counterpart, the Freedom Caucus, also insists on a no-compromise approach that bars discussion or incorporation of Democratic ideas in any legislation. Bolstered by various media outlets, the Freedom Caucus would happily shut down government, ignore major national problems and hurt ordinary Americans rather than offer tiny concessions and get 80 percent of what they want. 

Our American success is not manifest destiny. Every dominant national empire collapsed from the type of arrogance, division and entitlement we now see in Washington. The Roman Empire, centuries of Chinese domination and the British Empire all ended – and now the relatively brief American century is ending.

Every dominant national empire collapsed from the type of arrogance, division and entitlement we now see in Washington. The Roman Empire, centuries of Chinese domination and the British Empire all ended.

"Truth, justice and the American way" has been replaced by two versions of the truth on every issue. Justice increasingly depends on the whims of the party in power. And “the American way” has become a path by which true believers from each party divide us so seriously that the Civil War may be the only comparable American precedent.

I spent most of the last two months outside the U.S. and saw that not only will China's economy soon surpass ours, but so will its influence. I was in Beijing in May when leaders from 70 countries, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, gathered in Beijing to embrace China's "Belt and Road” initiative. This Chinese strategy borrows from and improves on the U.S. playbook of investing in other countries' infrastructure and helping them grow and develop their economies. It picks up the leadership mantle where the U.S. bowed out on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

We now see leaders in Europe, South and Central America and Africa rejecting the broken politics and increasing economic isolationism of the U.S. and responding to the warm economic embrace of China. They are welcoming Chinese investment, considering bilateral deals and indirectly supporting the Chinese model of a stifled press, tight government control and one-party rule. These moves come as the U.S. continues down a misguided path of increased isolation – abandoning the Paris Agreement and pulling out of TPP, for example. While the rest of the world moves forward to address climate change with new technology innovations, the EU and Japan hammer out a trade deal and China steps up trade initiatives and influence.

President Trump’s recent speech in Warsaw was a hopeful moment for American leadership, as he framed our biggest global challenge as one of democracy and freedom against terrorism and tyranny. While these sentiments are absolutely worthy of support, we need to harness them practically and work together toward a common cause. Open societies that embrace democracy and civil liberties are stronger when they face global threats to those institutions as a whole. Today the U.S. risks being viewed on the global stage as isolated and petulant – a country unwilling to work with others if it doesn’t get its way.

And China has taken notice.

Not only are leaders from both major U.S. parties elevating China and hurting America by resisting compromise and cooperation with each other, so too are we at risk of doing so with our historic strategic and economic foreign partners. Every major successful policy for America was bipartisan, from Social Security to civil rights. Only ObamaCare was passed by one party, and it is at best a partial success.                             

Our future is imperiled not by our resources or our people, but by our leaders’ refusal to acknowledge, confront and resolve our biggest problems: our spiraling debt, our sagging infrastructure, our imbalance between education and jobs, our broken health care system and our intergenerational theft from our children.

Some House members have had enough. Newly elected freshmen members resolved in writing to deal civilly with each other. And 44 members of Congress, split equally between the two parties, have joined the congressional Problem-Solvers Caucus – agreeing to work toward compromise and vote together on a few of the biggest issues. Supported by the group No Labels, they put their nation above their political affiliation.

Greatness requires resolve. It requires vision. And it requires conviction matched with compromise. Until and unless our leaders resolve to solve problems by dealing with each other, our nation's prominence and future are in peril.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and a NYT best-selling author.