There is an old concept in politics called the “loyal opposition.” The party that is out of power is not seen as the enemy but recognized as made up of fellow citizens with a different point of view when it comes to governing. They share common goals with the opposing party but see different paths for attaining them.
The role of the “loyal opposition” is to keep the party in power from overreaching and taking the country, state, or other units of government too far in one direction or the other. The majority party consults the leaders of the opposition party, allowing their input, as they craft legislation.
That’s not true anymore. Now the differences between the parties is a chasm. The span so great that compromise cannot bridge it.
There were once liberals, moderates, and conservatives within each party. The conservative Democrats worked with the liberal Republicans to create a middle ground that pulled the far right and far left into a place where government could function. We’ve destroyed that dynamic in our state legislatures and in the halls of Congress.
Through gerrymandered districts that ensure many incumbents can’t lose except to someone from their own party who is farther to the right, or to the left, we ensure that our government is cleansed of moderates. Poor voter turnout in primaries ensure the energized and partisan base at each end of the spectrum selects candidates.
At the same time, we have polarized the American electorate; poisoned its sense of civility and tolerance. And, now, this process is on steroids.
“You see what’s happening on the other side,” President Trump said at a recent rally in North Carolina. “They want to take everything away. They want to destroy everything we’ve built. We’ve got the most successful country in our history. They want to take it away.”
“While the socialist Democrats are trying to destroy American health care and your Social Security,” he said in another speech. That claim is at odds with the facts. It was Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt who created the Social Security program and President Barack Obama whose Affordable Care Act extended health care to millions of uninsured Americans. It was Democratic President Lyndon Johnson who signed into law the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“At stake in our present battle is the actual survival of our nation,” Trump has said. “I really believe that. It’s a survival. You see these maniacs that we’re dealing with …. ” Iran will “own America if Eiden gets – and they know, with me, doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way. If Joe Eiden got in, they’d own America.”
“Between them, China, Japan, Mexico, Canada, they’d own America. You wouldn’t have a country left if he got in. If Biden got in, this economy would be destroyed,” he tells his supporters.
None of this is true. We’ve lived under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents; both did their best to serve American interests in their own ways. To a degree, Congress, or the courts, rein in their excesses.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd,” British Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell wrote. We are seeing the stoking of fear fuel this herd instinct at political rallies today.
“The price of the democratic way of life is a growing appreciation of people’s differences, not merely as tolerable, but as the essence of a rich and rewarding human experience,” Jerome Nathanson, the late chairman of the board of leaders of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, said.
That is not the case today. Now we must be enemies. The opposition isn’t loyal, it’s deceitful and out to destroy everything we hold dear. It doesn’t have to be this way, but we allow it when we buy into the demonization of those whose ways of life, whose religious beliefs, whose political passions are different from our own.
“In a republic, to be successful we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth,” President Teddy Roosevelt said in April 1910.
Mary Travers was a singer with the 1960s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. Many of their songs deal with the social unrest in America at the time of the Vietnam War and the racial tensions in the country. Today our country is again torn apart by racial and social strife with people taking to the streets to seek justice.
“The fact that there are singer songwriters dealing with substantive issues is encouraging,” she said. “It’s important for young people to perceive that there are acceptable avenues of dissent, because we live in a world where dissent is hard-pressed; treated as if it were unpatriotic. I’ve always liked the concept of the loyal opposition. It allows for dissent to be a respectable part of the whole.”
In the cycle of politics, and life, you are going to be a member of the loyal opposition at some point. How you treat those who are members of that loyal opposition now will influence how you will be treated when your turn comes around to fall out of the majority.
You cannot love America and demonize the loyal opposition. You cannot govern as the leader of a nation if you demonize half the population.