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Opinion: Destined for more partisanship and hatred

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James Huffman
James Huffman

It’s a republic, if we can keep it.

Neither the impeachment of President Donald Trump nor his defeat by a Democrat in the 2020 election is likely to cure what ails American politics. That’s because what ails American politics is a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy. To be sustainable, democratic government must be an iterative process of compromise, not a winner-takes-all competition for power. The goal must be broad consensus, not garnering a simple majority of votes. A narrow victory at the polls should be cause for humility, not a victory dance in the end zone.

When Barack Obama was elected he let Republicans know that elections have consequences. Republicans, in turn, made it their mission to block every Obama initiative. When Trump was elected, he claimed total victory, while Democrats immediately raised the prospect of impeachment and declared themselves the resistance.

Never mind that Obama was elected with only 53 percent of the vote in 2008 and 51 percent in 2012, while Trump garnered only 46 percent in 2016. After each election the roughly half of the voters who preferred the losing candidate were effectively unrepresented in the White House.

You lost. We won. Elections have consequences.

Indeed they do. But if the consequence of each election is that the victorious party believes it gets to run roughshod over the interests of the losing party and the losing party understands that its mission until the next election is to resist every initiative of the majority party, we are doomed to a future of partisan warfare, disruptive transfers of power, and neglect of the important and necessary work of government.

Thanks to the founding generation our Constitution places many obstacles in the way of majoritarian tyranny. These obstacles — a bicameral Congress with a Senate representing states — not population; a presidential veto; enumerated powers in Congress; judicial review; a Bill of Rights and the Electoral College — give minorities leverage they would not have in a purely majoritarian system. But that is leverage meant to force compromise, not to facilitate uncompromising resistance.

The Framers could only give us the tools for an effective republic, but as Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised a citizen in Philadelphia after the constitutional convention, it’s up to us to make it work.

Even if impeachment is an appropriate way to remove an offensive and ignorant president, impeachment in the current climate will only fuel the partisan flames. With more than 20 Democrats already seeking their party’s nomination for president, an inevitably lengthy impeachment process will assure that the 2020 election will be polluted by a dumpster fire only Donald Trump could relish. Even without impeachment, Trump will assure that the next election further erodes our politics.

Perhaps a moderate Democrat willing to say no to Trump hatred as the party platform could help quench partisan flames in a general election, but the party base appears intent on resistance right to the election. The only other avenues of escape from a partisan conflagration in 2020 are a Republican Party willing to risk the White House by nominating a candidate of principle and basic human decency, or a third party or independent candidate committed to keeping the republic rather than grasping for power.

But let’s get real. None of that is going to happen. With both parties seeing only evil in the other and committed to victory uber alles, with the cable news pundits fanning the flames, we are destined for yet more partisanship and hatred of our fellow citizens until both parties figure out what it takes to keep our democratic republic. Hint — it’s not we’re good, you’re evil — nor is it we won, you lost.

Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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