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Political purity is poisoning our nation

November 25, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

From the dumb messaging of "defund the police" to fearmongering over critical race theory, extreme ideas and rhetoric from the left and right have become, for too many, litmus tests of loyalty. If one party is for it, everyone in that party must be for it; if the party is against it, everyone in the party must be against it. This rigid loyalty is obliterating the common ground where compromises achieve progress.

Blind loyalty, amplified by partisan and social media, casts differing voices as the enemy. Socialists! Fascists! Woke mob! Racists!

In just one of many examples, Rep. Don Bacon has been attacked within his party after he was among 13 House Republicans who dared vote for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed Congress earlier this month.

Donald Trump -- who repeatedly said he supported infrastructure spending but got nothing done -- rolled out the RINO label for those House members and the 19 Senate Republicans who backed the bill in August. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted phone numbers of her 13 colleagues and called them "traitors." Some conservative House Republicans urged that they be stripped of their committee assignments.

This is crass, cynical and destructive. Even as they work to conflate the infrastructure bill with the Democrats' bigger social spending plan, these lawmakers know that billions will be flowing to their home states -- Nebraska will get at least $3 billion -- for roads, bridges, water systems, broadband and more. They know that spending is popular with their constituents -- we won't be surprised if during next year's campaigning some of today's critics tout the projects in their districts.

This is erosive to our system, which is built to require compromise and to hear opposing voices.

The purpose of all non-dictatorial political structures is to forge societies in which citizens agree to a set of rules under which they will live. Nobody gets their way all the time.

The Founders feared that political parties -- "the most fatal disease" of popular governments, Alexander Hamilton called them -- would be ruinous to the new nation.

"The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it," George Washington said in his farewell address.

The Founders' hope collapsed, with Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson falling into bitter political rivalry, sparking the two-party system.

Willard Sterne Randall, professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and biographer of six of the Founding Fathers, says Washington "had stayed on for a second term only to keep these two parties from warring with each other. He was afraid of what he called 'disunion.' That if the parties flourished, and they kept fighting each other, that the Union would break up."

Here we are, more than 220 years on from Washington leaving office, and a University of Virginia poll this fall found that 52% of Trump voters and 41% of Biden voters would theoretically favor splitting the country along lines of political views.

But we are not enemies. We are all Americans, and with that good fortune and freedom comes robust disagreement.

We have a system to resolve those differences peacefully.

The nation had a win this month: Congress did something consequential that will help address urgent needs.

For this to happen more often, we need good people to be willing to take leadership roles without having to face threats and constant vilification. We need competing perspectives and then must extract solutions from those positions. Otherwise, we end up spinning our wheels in the muck of extremes and people become stuck in fear and anger.

Locally, we will see that in the response to this editorial. The pure left will say it's terrible that The World-Herald seemed to say a nice thing about Bacon, who mostly holds fast to his party and, many Democrats contend, only pretends to be bipartisan. The pure right will say, disingenuously, that the bill isn't really infrastructure and the RINOs paved the way for Congress to approve Biden's massive social spending program.

And what will that accomplish? Precisely what the Founders feared. It must stop.

-- Nov. 19, 2021

Print Headline: Political purity is poisoning our nation

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