Next generation may have to resolve divisive politics

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

A new generation is moving into a decision-making role in America’s democracy, as voters. They enter the electoral arena that has morphed into a battlefield of anger politics.

Disagreement and compromise is passe. Demonizing and vindictiveness have steamrolled the former ways of settling differences.

It is easy to pile all the responsibility for that predicament onto one political party, one demographic group, one profession or one change in governmental policy. But the blame can be spread all around. The public officials serving in Washington, D.C., gained their seats through votes in an electoral system arranged and rearranged by those same elected officials.

“The government you elect is the government you deserve,” Thomas Jefferson once said.

A story in Friday’s Tribune-Star editions offers hope that the country’s youngest civic participants clearly see and dislike the damaging effect of the us-versus-them atmosphere, so devoid of civility that it is ending friendships, dividing families and alienating sectors of the population from others. Young people are inheriting this ugliness from elder generations.

An advanced-placement-level government class at West Vigo High School is studying the ongoing proceedings of President Donald Trump’s impeachment and comparing that process to past presidential impeachments. The Senate trial portion began last week to determine whether Trump should be removed from office, or found not guilty, over charges of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress.

Teacher James Kendall’s students have delved into the history of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial 21 years ago, as well as that of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the near-impeachment of President Richard Nixon that resulted in his resignation in 1974.

The goal of that academic approach, Kendall said, is for students “to understand the constitutional powers that Congress has and the president has, and to continue the ongoing discussion as to what are the limits of power and what are the appropriate checks on presidential power.”

His students do not have identical hopes for the outcome of the current impeachment trial. That is not unusual or detrimental. Differing opinions fuel a healthy, diverse democracy. The impeachment proceeding itself also is a sign to other countries that the United States of America has a constitutional process to properly address questions of presidential malfeasance through the checks and balances provided by Congress.

Unfortunately, the impeachment also illuminates — on a global stage — a politically driven unwillingness to cooperate and do the right thing.

Despite holding different expectations of the Trump trial’s outcome, the students all see the rigid partisanship pervading America and its elected officials. One wished Americans “weren’t so divisive. It’s kind of crazy to think I’m going to grow up in a country where our leaders can’t get along or can’t agree on many things. That’s kind of scary, looking out for the future of our country.”

Another said the impeachment proceedings “expose the divide, the partisan politics, and the decisions they make based on party lines and not what’s best for the country.”

It may be up to their generation to demand better from elected officials of all parties representing them in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the U.S. As it is now, officeholders are being emboldened by the cheers of their political bases for each act of arrogance, intransigence and incivility. Thus, it continues.

Many young people want a functioning, responsive government. Older Americans often say the same. With Jefferson’s words ringing, the only way to get that type of representation is to vote for it.

Send comments to [email protected].