State of the Union? Trump and the Democrats Should Pledge to Work Together

State of the Union?  Trump and the Democrats Should Pledge to Work Together

In 2018, Democrats and Republicans should commit to bipartisan cooperation, not self-defeating war.

When Donald Trump appears before Congress and the nation on Tuesday, at least two different versions of his fledgling presidency will be on display:  Trump’s — and just about everyone else’s.

The continuing controversy raised by Trump’s unconventional presidency — and his intemperate remarks via Twitter, especially — has the country acting as if it were engulfed in civil war.  It makes for good media drama, but it’s leaving the country dangerously polarized.

Some of Trump’s supporters want the president to go on a scorched earth campaign against Democrats and to ignore his media critics.  Trump’s opponents, fearful of the president’s early policy successes, now want to obstruct his administration at every turn.

Tomorrow’s State of the Union address is a chance for Trump and his opponents to move in a new direction — for the good of us all.

Expect Trump to tout his many policy successes to date:  a booming economy, regulatory rollbacks, a new Supreme Court, a “historic” tax reform bill, and the administration’s stepped-up military campaign against ISIS.

Expect Trump’s critics to pooh-pooh these breakthroughs, which is their right, of course.

After all, the president and his opposition typically disagree sharply on the “state of the union.”  That’s why we have two parties that traditionally alternate in power every eight years or so.   The parties fight but ideally it’s with a measure of civility and humility that allows for constructive — and mutually deferential — partnership.

But increasingly the country is split more or less down the middle – and ever more fiercely — by its partisan affiliations.  And neither side displays much respect for the facts or for the nuances of most policy issues.  It’s become a zero-sum game — and it’s limiting what Congress could achieve at a time when both parties are viewed unfavorably by the public.

We had eight years of legislative gridlock under Obama.  There has to be a better way.

Thanks to weak and uninspired leadership from the political class, Americans seem to cling to their partisan affiliations as a form of tribal identity, much as they root for their favorite sports team.  Partisan politics gives Americans something to get riled up and feel self-righteous about.  And with Trump as the nation’s figurehead, the level of vitriol on both sides has reached an all-time high.

But there’s a paradox here.  On the issues, Americans are rarely so simply divided as the political entrepreneurs in each party would have them be.  Immigration?  Most Americans think the foreign-born already here, illegally or not, deserve a break, but they also think America should be much tougher at the border.  They don’t think they’re being xenophobic – just sensible.  The country should welcome diversity – but it should also protect the “national” interest.

Taxes?  Democrats say Trump’s reform legislation is a classic “tax break for the rich.”  But it really isn’t — and they should know better.  It’s a sop to corporate America but it’s also a spur to get companies – including small businesses — to invest more in the economy.  Early signs suggest that it’s working.  Its longer term impact is still in doubt.  But despite the Democrats’ harsh rhetoric, voters are warming to the plan.

Obamacare?  Most people think the issue has already been legislated.  They’re glad more Americans are insured than ever before, but they’re disturbed that their own premiums are rising faster than they were supposed to.  And they still worry – rightly — about health care’s affordability.  Roll back the Affordable Care Act, as the GOP insists?  No way, and Republicans should stop trying.  But fix the law?  Sure, if we can.

As for ISIS, most Americans seem blissfully unaware that the country’s designated #1 national security threat is on the run, its vaunted “Caliphate” in ruins.  Trump will likely hype that success much as Obama once exaggerated the impact of killing Osama Bin Laden.  That’s what commanders-in-chief too often do.  Remember George W. Bush’s claim of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq?

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