Democrats ride into the U.S. House with a strong, new majority and, for many of them, decisive wins that affirm their agendas.
And they’re not waiting until January to make their presence felt. Incoming House chairs have served notice to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that they intend to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. That kind of vigorous check on executive power is needed and should move ahead. But it would be a mistake for Democrats to become consumed by efforts to take down this president and unleash a blizzard of investigations and impeachment proceedings.
Voters want accountability, but that was not the issue uppermost in the minds of those who sent a new majority to the House. Rather, exit polls, interviews and candidates themselves all told the same story: It’s health care, stupid. America has awakened to the fact that an estimated 1 in 3 of us have a pre-existing condition and that the time for the other two is most likely coming.
It’s also an economy that, for all its good points, has left too many behind with jobs that pay too little for them to raise a family, educate their children and save for retirement. It’s an education system that has saddled a generation with soaring student loan debt, as they attempt to pursue better-paying jobs and careers. It’s an outdated immigration system and the refusal to deal meaningfully with gun violence.
Americans are frustrated by politicians who get caught up in distractions, who scapegoat others as a way of ducking hard choices. Yes, this country is deeply polarized, a condition made worse by those who actively foster that division instead of reminding citizens of all that binds them together as one nation.
But the citizens themselves have not forgotten. The cultural wars are old and tired, and while they raged, many fell further and further behind. The reality is that many Americans want the same things: reliable and affordable health care, good schools that lead to well-paying jobs in all walks; decent housing in safe neighborhoods; living wages; good roads and transit; and, finally, the path to a comfortable retirement. Democrats and Republicans will have different visions of how to get there, but both sides should recognize that Americans are hungry for leaders who will focus on what’s important to them in their everyday lives.
Whether she is able to stay this course or not, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi struck the right note on election night, when she said the incoming House majority would work on those bread-and-butter issues, and “we will strive for bipartisanship with fairness on all sides. We have a responsibility to find common ground where we can. We have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that make our democracy strong. We will work on solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division. The American people want peace. They want results.”
In the Republican Senate, in which the GOP widened its majority, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, offered a similar conciliatory outlook. Earlier threats to cut Social Security and Medicare are now deemed “unlikely,” and he is talking about the need to “fix” the Affordable Care Act rather than scrap it outright. New tax legislation, he acknowledges, will require bipartisan support — a recognition of the fact that tax bills must originate in the House, giving Democrats control of that terrain.
Divided government can work — and work well — when both sides are committed to finding common ground and recognizing the need for genuine compromise rather than waging all-out war on the other side. If President Donald Trump continues to feed on division, that spirit will be needed more than ever.
Americans — and Minnesotans — will have to do their part by praising compromise where it occurs and rejecting the pugnacious, all-or-nothing stance that has done so much to corrode public life.