Building through consensus
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, October 8, 2020
Growing up, I have always felt a strong attraction to everything political, and ever since I can remember I would spend my time combing through the political pages of Nicaragua’s only two circulating newspapers, following the turbulent and sometimes chaotic political scene of the Central American nation I get to call home. I must confess that instead of following a sports league like my peers, I spent most of my time in secondary school following foreign elections. I dedicated countless hours seeking to understand the pressing issues in countries far away, even though I had no connection to them at all.
In a way, I did this out of impatience. Not wanting to wait for one election every five years, I could switch freely between a presidential election down in South America, a rigged pantomime somewhere in Africa and a legislative nail-biter in Europe. Looking back, devoting so much time to political issues that I had no connection with helped me to gain some political objectivity, something desperately needed in today’s American political scene. My disconnect with a country’s social scene additionally meant I was disconnected from the shallow personalist divisions that tend to inflame voter’s passions so much, as well.
Although I’m no political science major and probably have an amateurish understanding of some political concepts, I think looking at the way other countries do things can provide the frustrated American electorate with the solution to heal a country that ought to be called the Disunited States. The answer is straightforward: consensus.
In the second half of the past decade, the Republican Party has tilted sharply to the right, embracing nationalism and hard right principles that would have been unthinkable in days past; similarly, the centrist, third-way image the Democratic Party crafted for itself in the days of Clinton and Obama has conceded the spotlight to more progressive and leftist channels that challenge the American political establishment as well.
As extremes on both sides of the ideological spectrum hijack their party’s political machines, they force their national leadership to embrace intransigent and highly ideological positions that will never have a chance at becoming law. Just as it is politically impossible for conservatives to gut Obamacare or overturn same-sex marriage, the leftist dream of abolishing private healthcare and breaking up large corporations is equally unlikely. By focusing on political projects that have narrow chances of becoming public policy, politicians lose touch with the nation’s true imperatives and turn manageable problems into overwhelming ones.
Case in point: The opioid crisis, the country’s ballooning debt, stagnating wages and a myriad of other issues that affect the average American far more than the amount of news coverage they receive would imply.
Can a country continue to function without consensus? In the short run, it might seem that it can, at the cost of transforming the dignified duty of running a nation into a cheap sideshow act overrun with pettiness, empty theatrics and longstanding chaos. However, perpetual gridlock will never be sustainable, and the price we pay might be our democracy altogether.
I like to tell my friends that Nicaragua’s history — filled to the brim with episodes of war, coups d’état, revolution and turmoil — always offers comparisons and solutions to the problems currently plaguing these United States, and it is through this history that I draw the basis for my previous statement. During Nicaragua’s brief romance with democracy between 1990 and the late 2000s, our political choices could not have been more different.
On the left, the now incumbent Sandinistas offered voters a mixed-economy with elements of Marxist doctrine sprinkled throughout, paired with an international alignment with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and the long list of countries used to fearmonger the American electorate. On the right, the conservative and liberal parties paraded a radical embrace of free market capitalism, foreign direct investment and tight-knit partnerships with the United States and the West. The lack of cooperation paralyzed the country on nearly a yearly basis, and a barrage of protests, strikes and uprisings constantly threatened Nicaragua’s nascent democratic framework. The end result of all that was sufficient for us to once again backslide into authoritarianism, and trust me: You would not like to see the American political scene metamorphosize into my country’s.
Finding common ground with the other side is one of the most crucial ingredients to a healthy political culture. More often than not, both sides seek the same thing through different means and basing conversations off of that fact will do wonders to foster stability and rational debate. We must work together to restore “red lines” dividing each side of the ideological spectrum, to cut off the extreme positions that threaten to poison the well and destabilize society altogether. After all, consensus gave the United Kingdom a fair chance to rebuild itself after the horrors of World War II, the United States the opportunity to enjoy the largest rates of peacetime economic growth through the late twentieth century and Germany the blessing to go from a boiling pot of radicalism to a model of political stability for Western Europe.
Do not view the other side as your enemy, but as an adversary, and contribute to the much-needed healing of American politics by building consensus. In the leadup to November, engage in conversations that return civility to the nation’s political discourse … and never forget to VOTE!
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.