Now that the Democrats have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives, everyone has advice for them.
Much of that advice is specific to the issues of the day — arguments both for and against advancing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, strategies for extending health coverage to more Americans at lower costs, etc.
These, to be sure, are important issues that merit open discussion and debate.
My counsel, though, is tied less to the battles of the moment and more to providing lasting leadership. That counsel can be boiled down to three words.
The first is: listen.
And not just to those who agree with you.
The emergence of and reaction to President Trump has brought this nation to a point that is both volatile and fragile. Old loyalties have been shaken in ways we Americans haven’t seen before. Who would have thought that Republican bastions such as Orange County — where the political careers of GOP stalwarts Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan took root — would fall into the Democratic column?
But they have, in large part because many Americans are worried, even frightened, enough to consider what for them are desperate options.
Hear their concerns.
One of the most distressing things about this president and the members of his party who enable him is their seeming belief that their only obligation is to those who voted for them or otherwise supported them.
But our political system isn’t a sport and election day isn’t the championship game.
Once the votes have been counted, those elected are supposed to represent all the people, not just those they like or who like them.
The act of listening can be healing in itself — we all like to feel that we are being heard — but it also can be productive. Sometimes, the other side or the other person has a better idea.
The second word is: explain.
The best leaders in our history have been great teachers. When they have had to make tough decisions or unravel tangled issues, they have been able to present the reasons for their actions or policies in ways everyone could understand.
In many ways, leadership in a self-governing society is an ongoing exercise in civic education. The more people understand both the problem and the proposed solution, the more likely they are to support both the leader and the plan. The most extreme voices on either side will generate a lot of noise that will have to be cut through but keep teaching and keep explaining.
Most Americans know good sense when they hear it.
The third word uses the other two as its foundation: govern.
For more than a half-century, politicians from both parties have made a practice of running against government. This has been corrosive to our government and our country.
The founders of this nation didn’t go to war with the British to end government. They did so to secure the right to govern themselves.
When we fight against the idea of government, we fight against ourselves — and that’s a war we can’t win.
The current nonsensical federal government shutdown demonstrates that. The only casualties in this fight are our own people.
Government in a free society is supposed to be the means by which we resolve our differences, not exacerbate them. At its most basic level, our government is supposed to serve and protect the people of this nation, not burden and imperil them.
But burdening and imperiling them is exactly what we’re doing now.
As the midterm elections demonstrate, many Americans are willing to set aside partisan and even ideological loyalties in the hopes that someone, anyone, in a position of leadership will start being the adult in the room.
The president has demonstrated, again and again, that he can’t be the grown-up.
So, the Democrats will have to be.
If this means crafting a face-saving way out of the border-wall trap the president built for himself and this nation, do it. Remember the folks that he doesn’t seem to care about. Put people back to work and keep them from being thrown out of their homes.
Solve the problem.
Don’t make it worse.
Listen, explain and govern are only three little words.
But they can make a huge difference.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].