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By Ashley Pratte
The passing of President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain made me realize that politics really did use to be tough but bipartisan. Both men fought tough political battles and campaigned hard against their rivals, but also engaged in bipartisan governance and had friends across the political spectrum.
And Americans felt that: Following the 2006 midterms, 52 percent of respondents polled said that then-President George W. Bush was likely to cooperate with Democrats a great deal or fair amount and 48 percent said the Democrats would work with Bush.
Times, though, have changed. Gallup polling conducted after the 2018 midterm election shows that 28 percent of Americans surveyed believe that Democrats will cooperate with Trump, while 33 percent believe that the president will work with Democrats “a great deal” or “a fair amount.”
What’s more, a Pew Research poll shows that a majority of all Democrats and Republicans have little to no friends in the opposing political party. Stunningly, 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans said they have “very few” close friends or “none” who belonged to the other political party. And, only 14 percent of Republicans said they have a lot of friends who are Democrats, while just 9 percent of Democrats said they have a lot of friends who are Republicans.
Modern political polarization goes even further than that: A June 2014 Pew Research poll showed 50 percent of Republicans wouldn’t want this child to marry a Democrat, and nearly a third of Democrats wouldn’t want their child to marry a Republican.
It can be so easy in today’s America — even with the internet connecting us to one another as never before — to envelop ourselves in our own little worlds, but then we miss out on the true beauty of life and its experiences. We may think that we are just more comfortable in our own bubbles, but it’s self-fulfilling and self-defeating exercise to never leave the cozy echo chambers that we have created for ourselves.
As humans, we all have different experiences that bring value to the conversations and relationships we have with one another. We crave connection, but only befriending people who always agree with us is dull, and it doesn’t lead us to the colorful lives we all profess to want. And while you should never compromise your own values, you can still respect the thinking and experiences behind someone else’s.
Instead of a willingness to learn from and engage with one another, too many of us view those on the opposite side of the political spectrum as a threat to the country, which is completely dangerous. If we are unable to have a respectful dialogue and to be challenged by differing viewpoints, then we cannot advance our society as a whole. Legislation that can legitimately help our country can never get passed in our nation’s capitol or any state capitols if we refuse to break bread with those of differing political opinions (or run out of office the politicians who do).
For instance, through reading the newspaper, watching the news and learning about current events growing up led me to realize my ideals and values were in line with the Republican, I never stopped having or learning from friends on both sides of the aisle. But when my party nominated Trump, I knew he would never be the standard-bearer of the party to which I had long felt I belonged.
During those difficult times of personal and professional growth and development, it was my Democratic friends who were the most supportive and respectful of my decisions. They recognized how hard it must’ve been for me to publicly rebuke the party I belonged to and loved. And I realized that our dialogues were part of what had allowed me to step outside of my political comfort zone and see that party — which had, to that point, made significant strides in reaching out to young people, minorities and women — was seemingly rejecting the evolution that I had loved and respected.
Trump went on to become our nation’s president, but I learned so much about the value of bipartisanship along the way.
I know that my relationships and friendships with people who disagreed with me politically were the ones who taught me the greatest lessons of unconditional and unwavering support during one of the hardest times of my life. And, since the election, my life has been blessed with new friendships and relationships — and I continue to grow because of my ability to recognize all of what people of differing opinions bring to my life.
In world that is so divided, it’s time for all of us to look for reasons to come together, and to turn to the lessons we can learn from the lives of President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain. Disagreement and competition is good and healthy in a democracy, but only if done with respect and not malice. And maybe, rather than waiting for our leaders to show us the way, we can show them that we are willing to listen to one another other, instead of the hyperpartisanship surrounding us.