Divisive Does Not Equal Democracy

This past week, the U.S. Senate passed a tax reform bill.  There was a lot of conversation and talk show material around the “needed victory for the GOP and the White House,” the “narrow, party-line voting” and all the standard partisan political rhetoric about why the bill was good or bad.  For the Democrats and more “liberal” political pundits and programs, the bill “only benefited corporations and was an affront to the poor and middle class” and for the Republicans and more “conservative” political pundits and programs, the bill was a “major step in boosting the economy by making big businesses competitive and able to hire more workers.”  It was a textbook play out of the partisan playbook.

For me, one of the most disappointing aspects of the tax reform bill was not just the bill itself – which I and hundreds of faith-based and secular organizations opposed – but was the process and partisanship by which it was passed.  It was yet another vote on a major piece of legislation that added a notch to partisan politics that are more about party affiliation than they are about people.

Recently, I tried to recall the last time I remembered seeing representatives of both major political parties behind the President while he was signing a major bill into law.  Even though I do keep regular tabs on politics, the last time I could bring to mind a bi-partisan effort on a major piece of legislation was July 1990, when President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

While I’m sure I’ve missed some bi-partisan victories, it is somewhat telling that my last vivid memory of a major piece of bi-partisan legislation was over twenty-five years ago.  What that says to me is that bi-partisan politics – the way a democracy is SUPPOSED to work – doesn’t happen near often enough.  Worse than that, we are so wrapped up in the “rightness” of our political party/perspective, that anything proposed by an opposing party is automatically suspect, out of touch, or just plain wrong.

We’ve moved so far politically, that we rarely hear statements that contradict party line ideas; statements like:

  • I support the 2nd Amendment AND responsible gun ownership laws and legislation.
  • I support comprehensive immigration reform AND support some efforts to protect our borders.
  • I support programs that empower people out of poverty AND I support a way to feed hungry Americans.
  • I support tax cuts for the poorest Americans AND some corporate tax cuts to provide an economic boost to businesses and make them competitive.

Supporting ideas that move across partisan political boundaries shouldn’t be deemed suspect or an act of political disloyalty.  On the contrary, the most politically loyal thing we can do as U.S. citizens is to live into our democracy by holding all our Congressional representatives’ feet to the bi-partisan carpet and demanding that our process of government is much, more democratic than it is divisive.


The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry.  Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking.  To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.