MI representatives work together to mend bipartisan politics

Jun 14, 2018

By Elissa Kedziorek
NNAF News Fellow | Western Michigan University
From Washington to Kalamazoo, MI, Republicans and Democrats are speaking about the reasons that have led to the polarization in the political climate in the U.S.
Recently two Michigan representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, stepped across the aisle to provide their insights about the current political division occurring in America.
At a news briefing, Rep. Dave Trott, R-MI, said Congress needs to be more tolerant of each other in terms of how Republicans and Democrats deal with one another.
“I truly believe all the members of the House care about our country just as much as I do,” Trott said.
The Republican representative spoke about a New York Times article he read regarding the U.S.’ unstable democracy. In the article, Trott picked up on two themes: tolerance and forbearance.
“The party in power can’t use all of its power; they have to forbear,” Trott said. “They have to give the other party an opportunity to have a seat at the table and to have input on ideas and solutions.”
Trott said that former President Ronald Reagan and former Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill used to have lunch each week, yet they were political opposites. He said that Reagan used to say that he would rather have 70 percent of what he wanted than nothing, but that such cooperation in governing has changed over the years since they were in office.
“Today, far too often what we end up with is nothing,” Trott said. “Far too often we spend time talking about ideas and solutions that while they’re intellectually stimulating, they have no practical application because they’re dead on arrival.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-MI, said she spends time every weekend in union halls and at universities in order to ensure that she is hearing various points of view.
She said a contributing factor, which explains what happened during the 2016 election, was that people thought their voices didn’t matter; “that they couldn’t make a difference, and a lot of people stayed home on one side and the other side was very loud and feeling very angry, and they did turn out. I think our country’s better when everybody turns out and that everybody knows that their vote matters.”
She said the far left and the far right have begun to dominate the conversation, they have louder voices and tend to use intimidation.
She said she also believes that social media has had a significant contribution to the vitriolic behavior occurring in America’s society.
She said this narrative can become a problem for people like Trott and herself, because they respect each other, even when they disagree. She noted that when they were first elected, they made a point of showing people they wanted to work together for the state of Michigan.
“We wanted to learn together,” Dingell said. “We bring our perspectives together and try to find that common ground.”
She said one of the problems in Congress today is that elected representatives don’t develop relationships anymore.
“The minute the last vote happens, you race for the airport and you go home, and you come back as late as you can,” Dingell said.
This causes a push for everything to get done quickly, adding to the distance between colleagues, whom often have no personal ties to one another.
In addition to the lack of relationships between one another, Dingell said that compromise has become a dirty word.
“You can have different perspectives,” Dingell said. “You can respectfully disagree and try to find where that common ground is.”
This divide at the national level has trickled down to Western Michigan University. College Republicans and the College Democrats have few, if any, relationships with one another.
Marshall Kilgore, a member of WMU’s College Democrats, said his organization is affected by this polarization in different ways. Recently, the National Rifle Association group on campus along with the College Republicans wanted to hold a debate.
“It seems like it wants to be just a jab at our values,” Kilgore said. “I would rather be all for the debate if we knew an outcome was coming from it, if we knew people were gaining knowledge from it. I think a forum would be more like it.”
Kilgore said having a forum would allow people to look at the three groups, College Democrats, College Republicans and the NRA, and be able to take something away from it, versus everyone just arguing their points.
The divide has also led people to support the College Democrats.
“There’s people who see this division in our culture right now and say that this seems to be the group that is not necessarily trying to push that division further,” Kilgore said.
He added that although he feels that the Democrats’ beliefs are the best, other opinions are not necessarily invalid.
“We cannot believe that our opinion is any better than anyone else’s,” Kilgore said. “Just as we had the right to organize and do the March for Our Lives this past weekend, you know, the Republicans, the NRA had every right to counter protest, just as they did on the left of us.”
Kilgore said both groups need to respect each other’s opinions and that finding middle ground is important.
“That’s what we’re going for—a middle ground where the majority of people feel safe in this country, where the majority of people feel like this country is working for them.”
On the other side of the aisle, the College Republicans at WMU have faced challenges from this divide, too.
“The political climate here is ridiculous,” Charles Rhames, a member of the College Republicans, said. “You really can’t be a conservative without people literally yelling at you.”
Rhames said he believes this comes from, people who do not know their facts. He said he thinks that if people knew the facts of an issue, there wouldn’t be such a great divide.
“Some things I try to do to bridge that gap is to be as nice as possible while spreading forth the conservative message,” Rhames said. “That way, they can see that there are good conservatives, and we can at least have a well-spoken dialogue about issues and hopefully persuade them over.”
The College Republicans said they have been called racists and Nazis.
“My problem is not that they think that of me; it’s that they don’t know me and they just classify me as that,” said Robert Salter, a member of the College Republicans.
Dan Ward, a member of the College Republicans, said the group is trying to host debates and dialogues with other organizations that have differing opinions.
“We’d really love that to happen because part of our goal here on campus is to create a dialogue of differing opinions,” Ward said. “Just because we think different ways, or we believe different beliefs, you know, why can’t we just have an open conversation with each other and, you know, just talk.”
Ward said this is a way to find solutions and common ground.
“[On] a lot of issues, we really do just want the same thing; we just have different approaches on how to get there,” Ward said.
Greg DeHaan, a member of College Republicans, said it’s hard to talk about the real meat of the issues.
“People want easy,” DeHaan said. “People want to be able to post a meme on Facebook or say something that is noble and virtuous, instead of doing the hard thing and talking about policy or talking about the underlying issues that create the issues that we see.”
DeHaan said no one ever wants to talk about what has changed with people.
George Hiller, a member of the College Republicans, said that people won’t get anywhere by yelling at each other.
“It does no good to yell at each other,” Hiller said. “We’ve got to find a solution, to try to find a common ground and push forward. We won’t get anywhere just sitting here arguing.”
DeHaan said we focus on what we disagree on more than what we agree on.
In terms of what this means for the future of the U.S. political climate, College Democrats and College Republicans have some ideas.
“I see it getting worse before it gets better because I think the real solutions is for people to become responsible for their own actions politically,” DeHaan said.
He added that he doesn’t want it to get worse, even though he believes it will.
On the other side, Kilgore said it’s important to learn from history.
“Are we going to let history keep playing over and over, or are we going to step in and change it?”
Although both groups feel discussion and common ground is needed, a specific date for that discussion to happen has not been set.