The American republic is in crisis. Presidents abuse their power with impunity. Congress wallows in its dysfunction. The mechanism established by our Constitution to democratically and collectively address national concerns is collapsing.
Sound like an exaggeration? Good. Sound alarmist? Even better.
This next presidential election may be the most important in American history. The astonishingly corrupt and contentious reign of Donald Trump needs to end. But it needs to be replaced with an administration willing to take drastic action to address our most pressing problem: unrelenting and increasingly polarized politics.
That is why the Democratic candidate for President needs to pick a Republican as a running mate. Moreover, these two individuals need to pledge – if elected – to work together to put nation above either party.
Democrats naturally will hate this idea. They desperately want to wrestle back control of the White House and use executive authority as aggressively as the GOP has. Sharing this opportunity with Republicans will sound absurd. Democrats will demand their pound of flesh. And who can blame them?
But they need to resist this urge.
Everyone can agree that the parties have never been more polarized. Voters and elected representatives have never been further apart. Finding common ground has become increasingly difficult. Compromise has become almost impossible.
But we don’t live in a parliamentary system that regularly allows for “one party at a time” control. Our Constitution establishes a presidential system anchored on checks and balances and separation of powers. The President who enforces law is elected separately from the Congress which makes the law. Divided government (where different parties control different branches) is common.
Here’s why that matters. A system where divided government is common demands bipartisanship and compromise if anything is to get done. Public policy that successfully addresses the nation’s needs requires the recognition of common ground.
A Democratic administration beginning in 2021 will almost certainly be stuck with a Republican controlled Senate. Even if the Democrats pull off a miracle in 2020 and win a majority in the Senate, it won’t be a “filibuster-proof” majority. Divided government will again prevail. Gridlock and dysfunction will again abound.
Our best chance at escaping this nightmare requires the new administration putting nation above party. It involves using the “Bully Pulpit” of the presidency to advance compromise and bipartisan solutions. With a Democratic president working closely with their Republican vice-president, the White House will be able to champion proposals advancing national priorities. One party wouldn’t be able to own the policy since both parties had worked together in its creation.
Compromise would again become possible. The system, in other words, would finally work again as it was designed.
Congress would be compelled to play along and put petty partisanship aside. Representatives and Senators refusing to reach across the aisle would be labeled as obstructionists. But unlike the badge of honor that label now represents, in this new era of executive-led bipartisanship, obstructionists would be risking electoral suicide.
James Madison’s presidential system will never be replaced by a parliamentary system. And our political parties will not become less polarized anytime soon. These two simultaneous realities explain our dysfunction and the republic’s malaise.
A bi-partisan executive administration reminding us of our required need to find common ground gives us our best hope for the future. Short of this, the American experiment will continue to fail under the weight of polarized parties, executive overreach, and Congressional gridlock.