In the wake of elections, there’s a common refrain and an implicit mandate: “come together.” But unity might not just only be impossible under the circumstances, I’m not convinced most Americans even want it.
“I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,” President-elect Donald Trump said in his election night victory speech.
“I believe it is important for all of us regardless of party … to now come together, to work together,” President Barack Obama said on Thursday shortly after he met with Trump at the White House.
They certainly aren’t the only ones. The cable channels and social media are full of the conversation. And any discussion about “coming together” is usually based on the premise that unity is a universal desire and a requirement.
I know that’s what newly elected officials are supposed to say, and I’m not against it. But I don’t see a lot of evidence that Democrats and Hillary Clinton supporters have any interest in being associated with a Trump voter, at least not an unrepentant one. They feel completely disconnected from people they think have elected a racist and misogynist candidate.
Democrats also don’t feel an urge to offer concessions and compromise when their nominee won the popular vote. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats voted against Trump, anti-Trump protesters are taking to the streets to oppose the next president, and 45 percent of voters told exit pollsters they’d be “scared” if he won. (It’s also unclear how many voters would say they’d be scarred by his election.) Those feelings aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
It’s a bit easier for Republicans and Trump supporters to sound a conciliatory tone, considering they won. But they don’t have any interest in compromise when they have the power. On Wednesday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan claimed his party had a mandate.
People aren’t interested in the country coming together, they’re interested in the country coming to them.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. The entire definition and concept of compromise has changed, particularly in the nation’s capital over the last decade.
What used to be “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands,” according to Dictionary.com, has become a game to hold out until the other side gives in or your side gains enough power to steamroll your opponent.
People and politicians don’t want compromise. They want the other side to agree with their position and then call it compromise.
The standoff usually results in gridlock and politicians getting the blame. But at some point, voters have to take at least partial responsibility for what happens in Washington.
Most members of Congress are trying to be responsive to their constituents and I don’t see a lot of evidence that voters are incentivizing compromise. Members who work across the aisle are at immediate risk of drawing a stiff primary challenge from the base of their party.
So if “coming together” means real compromise, I’d expect a backlash from voters who wanted their member of Congress or their president to hold out for a better deal instead of working with people for whom they have no respect.