A Preview Of Bipartisan America

American flag at the Westfield World Trade Center, New York (Unsplash/Augusto Navarro)

A Preview Of Bipartisan America

What would happen if we started debating how to solve our biggest problems in good faith again?

A funny thing happened to Conor Lamb after he won PA-18, a district gerrymandered into being for the sole purpose of giving Republicans a safe seat in the House. Overnight, the former evil agent of Pelosi with anti-American, leftist values turned into a young Republican, according to Fox News and right-wing pundits. How? He campaigned as a disciplined moderate who saw the benefit of some conservative ideas and reaching across the aisle, which was enough for the GOP to start chanting “One of us! One of us!”

Now, it would be easy to dismiss this sentiment as the denial stage of grief by a party realizing that it’s been hijacked by Bircher extremists, has to navigate a rabid base that rejects its core principles for authoritarian populism, and is reviled by voters so much that many of their safest seats are no longer safe. “Oh sure he said he was a Democrat, but he was really just a conservative in a commie’s clothing and this nation is still in the midst of MAGA fever, despite every poll showing the exact opposite.”

But here’s the thing, Lamb and other candidates who will be successful in Republican districts won’t win because they embraced left-wing populism and ran on dismissing every idea from the right out of hand. They will be calm, reasonable moderates with a healthy respect for both workers’ rights and the free market, environmental protections and the need for jobs, the rights of gun owners and basic gun safety more than 8 out of 10 Americans support. In other words, they will be rational citizens trying to bring back a much-needed dose of sanity to our laws and national discourse.

Can you remember the last time the country could go on for months at a time without spinning into yet another possible constitutional crisis, threat of war, or a massive political scandal that was going to be dwarfed by the scandal we all know will come next week? Substantive policy debates on the Hill have been replaced by the crisis of the month while a rotating cavalcade of people—few have ever heard of until now—tease some major announcement that will supposedly change the world as we know it. If the political news cycle today was a TV show, it would be dismissed as too contrived and overly reliant on cheap surprises. And it’s an even worse way to run a country.

Based on a technique known as NOMINATE scoring, which groups lawmakers based on how often their votes overlap, we can see that the partisan divide in Congress started skyrocketing in the 1990s with the GOP moving farther to the right twice as fast as the Democratic Party moved to the left. As far as our representatives are concerned, there’s nothing they can agree on and the broad ideological overlaps of the 1970s between the most moderate Republicans and Democrats in the 1970s are a relic of the past when we look at the data for 2011 and 2012. In light of these facts, it’s an inevitability that our government is gridlocked and long term problems aren’t getting solved with comprehensive packages of reforms. Recall how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made it his life’s work to oppose anything suggested by the Obama Administration, insisting there was literally nothing he and the White House could agree on while rallying Congress’ most extreme members to torpedo bills.

This is why we so badly need rational adults in government, people educated on key policies and how the system actually works, and ready to do what we want politicians we elected to do: make bipartisan compromises that solve as many facets of pressing problems as possible. Meanwhile, we could take our eyes off the news and actually focus on living our lives without wondering if the next nightmarish blowup in D.C. will threaten our healthcare, economy, security, or individual rights every other hour, or step away to make a cup of coffee without coming back to another scandalous piece of breaking news.

In an atmosphere of constant partisan tribalism enforced by daily outrage, conspiracy theories, and scaremongering—especially from the GOP—it’s easy to forget what moderation or political centrism look like. It’s not blithely rejecting every idea from every party, espousing no beliefs or principles of your own to play Devil’s advocate and complaining about how everyone is awful. It’s also not trying to split the difference between two extremes and calling it a day. Saying that if the left wants a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right wants to do away with minimum wage altogether, we should just settle on $7.50 an hour isn’t bipartisan politics but simple-minded literalism.

No, political moderation means recognizing germs of good ideas regardless of their origin and helping them mature into useful policies after looking at the available data and informed debate. Today, the GOP rejects this approach as an anti-American conspiracy and specializes in bad faith negotiations meant to fail so they can claim they really tried the bipartisan approach. But those irrational America-and-God-hating liberals just wouldn’t agree to something as benign as, say, a Muslim internment camp, and therefore, Republicans must go it alone to save the republic from their Soros-funded Illuminati New World Order plot.

(Andrew Schultz/Unsplashed)

Before you ask, yes, I could come up with sarcastic remarks all day. But let’s set aside the question of how we could actually engage in bipartisanship and civil discourse, and instead, explore what that could look like in today’s world. What sorts of policies could we see if we just talked about them like rational adults? Believe it or not, despite receiving plenty of comments and hate mail calling me a socialist on a secret globalist payroll, the stances I’ve advocated here at Rantt are far from that side of the political spectrum, as evidenced by hate mail in which I‘m apparently a “corporate poverty pimp.”

For example, while noting that refugees are statistically highly unlikely to be terrorists, treating all of them like ticking time bombs will work against assimilating them and segregating them is why so many European countries are having generations worth of resentment boiling over, I also said that no country can or should be expected to take infinite refugees. They should be allowed to only let in as many as they feel they can help find work and build a new life. Inviting those who we cannot accommodate does neither us nor the refugees any favors, draining the natives’ wallets and good will, and trapping many refugees in a country they don’t know, with dwindling prospects to fully assimilate, and in a volatile legal limbo.

Similarly, I think that a point system for immigration like ones used in many countries is a good idea, as are merit-based evaluations of an applicant for a green card. Currently, the process is vague, opaque, and expensive, so clear guidelines and criteria would be helpful to would-be immigrants and save taxpayer money. Likewise, merit-based initiatives for green cards could help highly qualified immigrants from getting stuck in unskilled jobs. (I say all this as an immigrant and refugee myself.) My problems with the GOP proposals for both were the vicious, clearly racist criteria which amounted to placing a “Millionaire Whites Only” sign on the application forms, the cruelty of not letting immigrants stay with their families, and implying that a nation of over 325 million people can’t accommodate any refugees at all.

Likewise, we should be questioning whether the H1-B visas, which bring as many as 65,000 foreign workers to the U.S. every year, primarily in the tech industry, are being abused at the expense of Americans. For nearly a decade, we’ve known that more than one in five H1-B applications contain fraudulent information. Stories of H1-B workers lacking the skills they claimed or listing eight years of experience with tools that have only been around for five are a staple of almost every tech workplace. Scams involving these visas are a nearly constant occurrence, and studies which claim that American workers are simply not up to par compared to their Asian peers are suspect at best, and deliberately misleading at worst.

Reforms to visa programs like this are sorely needed. We absolutely want to allow highly skilled workers to come to America and make contributions to our scientific, engineering, and medical programs, but we want to make sure they’re not coming to the country under false pretenses while displacing our current, perfectly adequate workforce. The H1-B system was designed to help companies find the best and brightest around the world, not to cut costs by replacing employees they think are too expensive, and facilitate con artists dealing in exaggerated resumes filled with outright lies.

And speaking of mass immigration, looking further into the reasons why Europe is in the middle of a refugee crisis, we can see that the nasty effects of climate change and weak governance in failing states are sending millions of people fleeing their homelands. The better solution isn’t just to build walls and deport as many migrants as we can, then hope they won’t come back, but to help develop these nations. While at first glance, this may sound like the very worst sort of wasteful globalism, the idea I proposed noted that existing charitable projects have failed from neglect and arbitrary, unstable funding, and our best course lies with private industry.

Forget carbon taxes which allow corporations to effortlessly greenwash the environmental damage they cause and consultants throwing money into feel-good projects that look good in the news but very seldom, if ever, have lasting effects. Instead, we should be thinking about how to efficiently build modern infrastructures from scratch and getting in on the ground floors of developing economies now that ours is mature and can only grow so fast and in relatively few sectors at that without branching out to radical new opportunities.

Render of SpaceX's proposed Interplanetary Transport System on a launchpad

Render of SpaceX’s proposed Interplanetary Transport System on a launchpad

Basically, the argument is to replace top-down planning by immense non-profits, NGOs, and government agencies with new, groundbreaking startups with big solutions to serious problems, given seed investments by nations in whose best interest it is to help control the effects of mass migration, and working alongside non-profits that know the local terrain, both political and physical. It’s trying to harness the power of capitalism to fight climate change and giving potential refugees a good reason to stay home and improve their countries instead, while creating jobs in mature economies which would do the heavy lifting in research, development, ancillary and support services, and monetizing promising spinoffs.

The same can be said for the future of space exploration. I would argue that governments can and should create a launchpad for private industry so we can reap sustained and long-term benefits from growing our economy and civilization into the final frontier, but we couldn’t — and shouldn’t — rely on their constant involvement, which depends on the whims of opportunistic and fickle politicians with a very shaky track record in supporting science. Forget the post-capitalist utopias of Star Trek and The Orville. Our future as a species has to expand into space and that feat has to be powered by our capitalistic tendencies, funding long-term, stable missions to discover, invent, and share the wonders of the universe for a hefty profit.

If it sounds like I’m — gasp — envisioning a smaller government with less of a direct role in our lives going forward, you’re hearing me right. For Team MAGA, it may be unthinkable that those who disagree with them don’t want a giant nanny state which will one day enslave us all under a brutal collectivist dictatorship, as I’m told was detailed by Agenda 21. But it’s entirely possible to have nuanced opinions about gun rights, regulations, immigration, and the economy that don’t fit in a tweet or on a hat. This is why I argue for a smaller but smarter government, with modernized agencies that focus on providing basic, streamlined services, and leave the rest to private industry, which will compete to provide us the best solutions for complex, new problems.

Consider that we absolutely need to make sure everyone can afford healthcare because our current system is financially crippling us and produces wildly unequal medical outcomes which depend on where you’re employed and how generous your insurance plan is. This also means we continually lose out on entrepreneurs who can’t start a business because they won’t be able to afford to get sick or have an accident, or have workers coming in sick and getting sicker because a doctor’s visit is too expensive, spreading disease to co-workers in similar straits. And this is not to mention how punitively expensive it’s become to have a child in America.

But instead of simply turning Medicare as it is into a universal health system and blithely ignoring the huge costs and treatment gaps that will result, we should insist on a second, private layer to come up with innovative solutions, treatments, and medications. We also need to reform the patent system and existing laws to force currently bloated, oligopolistic entities to actually compete with each other and their counterparts in other developed nations, as well as face negotiations with government agencies which will buy their products in bulk. This approach can save us hundreds of billions when supplying new devices and drugs.

And places where Americans can find common ground don’t end here. Yes, the idea that too many people are going to college because all they need to do is learn a trade that worked well for the person saying it, or because colleges are supposedly bastions of Marxist brainwashing, is absurd. However, we could argue that too many people go to college because colleges haven’t caught up with the demands of the modern job market and employers are demanding totally unreasonable qualifications for too many jobs.

Education itself is great, and yes, education for the sake of education is noble, but the fact of the matter is that nearly three-quarters of Americans either don’t need a degree to do their jobs, or their current degrees are completely irrelevant. In this light, the frequent complaints of companies about the lack of qualified workers seem particularly asinine when they demand a four-year degree to modify spreadsheets and scan files for close to minimum wage with virtually no benefits, all while calling this “competitive” in their seemingly satirical, but sadly not, job postings.

Traditional four year and two-year colleges are far too slow to deal with the rapidly increasing displacement of workers thanks to automation and universal basic income cannot be a long-term solution here, logistically or politically. Asking people to go into deeper and deeper debt to get degrees they won’t use almost three fourths of the time is absurd and we need to turn to technical schools, apprenticeships, and professional certifications instead, creating a continually learning mobile workforce which has the support of a government focused on helping people contribute to society with the right mix of incentives instead of a loose patchwork of services often managed vindictively and with thinly, if at all, veiled disgust by right-wing politicians.

As hard as it may be for way too many people to accept, the world of being able to clock in for 40 hours a week, do a job in which all your duties are scripted to the last detail, then retire somewhere warmer after 30 years, are gone. The jobs of the future aren’t 9 to 5 and require flexibility, creativity, and being ready to learn and make big changes quickly because the market moves faster than ever. Yet the current administration pretends that we still live in a late 19th-century agrarian and manufacturing economy instead of a global 21st-century post-industrial one with truly global competition.

We cannot rest on our past laurels and pretend the last 70 years of unprecedented growth and development across the world didn’t happen, or that modern technology isn’t upending half a century of predictable 9-to-5-30-years-then-retirement cadence of our working lives. We have to roll up our sleeves and out-innovate our economic rivals while boldly tackling our problems head-on. Just like Olympic champions have to keep training and competing to keep winning gold, we can’t lounge around between events then blame other competitors for cheating when they actually show up and put in the effort we refused to. We must also realize the economy and culture are not zero-sum games unless we choose for them to be, and there are scenarios that can have more than one winner with plenty of benefits for everyone involved.

And this gets to the heart of the problem we’re facing. We just zipped through topics as diverse as immigration, trade, healthcare, size of the government, space exploration, college, and found possible agreements on how we can merge ideas from the right and the left based on either looking at available data, or trying to learn lessons from plans that failed in the past. But these possible solutions require us to have a shared reality and the same set of facts. When the president and his followers tune into an alternative universe that exists solely to manufacture new crises for them and provide scapegoats for their problems, this simply isn’t possible.

They have very clear ideas for what they want to do but most of them are based on a world that doesn’t exist, one made of half-remembered outrage fuel and anger at their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and children for being “anti-American traitors.” Until we can somehow shake them out of their self-induced temper tantrum, we’re not going to get many sane solutions that can work based on actual facts, not tweets with the word “facts” added to them in all caps and followed by multiple exclamation points. We don’t need a party or a movement trying to “rescue America” from adapting to the modern world and planning for what’s next.

We need sober, level-headed adults, and the fact that only a handful of GOP members are willing to be such adults and act as a check on the ever-growing stable of rabid warmongers, white supremacists, xenophobes, and conspiracy theorists in the White House is terrifying. Also unsettling is the push by the far left to shift the Democratic Party far more to the left than it wants to go, and actively trying to sabotage moderate candidates. If we’re going to survive as a global superpower and address real problems, not the ones clueless pundits frothing at the mouth are screaming about, we’re either going to need a lot more moderates, or vote extremists out as decisively as possible.

Opinion // Bipartisanship / Economy / Education / Immigration / Opinion / Politcs