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Gregg: Dividing one nation into pieces

USA Today proclaimed in a front-page headline last week that Americans are not all that upset the federal government is functioning at a dead slow pace.

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“More Americans say polarization in Congress is good,” the newspaper proclaimed.

There can be no question that there is today, and always has been, a substantial group of folks, mostly conservative, who think that the less that happens in Washington, the better.

Considering the damage that has been done by a government constantly moving left, this is an understandable sentiment.

But even these folks might acknowledge there are opportunities that are being missed, such as the chance for real tax reform or reforming entitlement spending.

The real question here is, why is Washington locked down?

There are four primary answers to this question.

First is the nature of the House of Representatives. These days, somewhere between 60 percent and 65 percent of the districts are gerrymandered based on party affiliation.

This means the members from those districts are assured of election once they win their party primary.

Therefore, members of Congress must represent their party’s base because those are the folks who vote in primaries.

Once they arrive in Washington, there are certain things these representatives cannot do, if they want to get reelected (which all representatives do): compromise, cross the aisle and reach an agreement.

The base on both sides does not tolerate reasonable action, only purity. The House is thus locked down. No governing there.

Second, there is the rise of social media. It is a great boon in many ways, but in one area it is having a debilitating affect on governance.

In the past, those at the political fringe were limited in their ability to communicate beyond their cliques. Now, with social media, the shouters on the left and the right have taken center stage with the largest megaphone in history, the Internet.

They use it with incredible zest, dominating blogs, Twitter, Facebook and all other forms of exchange. They shout down anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

Lost in all this is the idea of thoughtful and serious debate on complex issues of public policy.

Third is the reawakening of advocacy media. Prior to the Civil War, it was estimated by some historians that almost all newspapers were essentially propaganda pamphlets promoting the politics of the party or person who founded them. Over time, this changed.

In the post-World War II world of journalism, there was a reasonable attempt by major news sources to be, to a large degree, objective; or to at least give coverage to those of different persuasions.

We are now reverting. The 24/7 news cycle and rise of cable news shows has created an atmosphere where advocacy takes precedence over reporting.

As a result, it is difficult to sustain a thoughtful discussion on challenging issues that allows movement toward compromise and consensus. And without consensus and compromise, you cannot in our divided government make progress.

Fourth, the divisions we see in Washington today involve a rare break with our history of viewing our nation in the terms of our motto “e pluribus unum.”

For the first time, really since President Andrew Jackson, we have a president who has taken up the banner of intentionally dividing the country on the basis of class.

It is an incredible departure from the great themes that have given our nation much of its unique strength since the days when the first refugees from the class-dominated societies of Europe landed here.

A primary element of America’s founding was that it was a meritocracy. Some people succeed at a level that is almost incomprehensible: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are a few icons of the present American dream.

They succeeded on their own merit. More importantly, in succeeding they have given millions of other Americans jobs and wealth.

Now, we have a president who is openly, and rather meanly, trying to set one group of Americans against another group, those who are very successful. This is being done purely to derive political benefit.

It also has the ancillary purpose of concentrating great power in the hands of the few who govern in the name of dispensing social justice.

The push to divide this nation along class lines is antithetical to America’s founding principles. If this approach is allowed to stand unchallenged it will continue to drive people apart. But it will also lead to the degradation of some of the essential values that have made this nation such a beacon to so many from around the globe.

We are a nation of many, made into one, built on the values of the founders. It is a nation that cannot be governed if it is being divided by its president.

Such an approach is incompatible with our history, our purpose and our motto.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.

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