In every election cycle, pundits and politicians alike assert that the United States is at a unique moment in history, a tilting point. No, I’m not going to argue that this time, "it's for real." What is striking about this election cycle, however, is how polarizing the candidates in both parties are. In the 113thSenate, Bernie Sanders was the thirdmost liberal senator, and Cruz the fourthmost conservative, with Rubio only a few spaces behind. For lack of many specific policy proposals or any voting record whatsoever, Donald Trump cannot be placed on this spectrum, but in his own way, he represents the same approach. That is one of uncompromising commitment to, in his case, his own self and outlook, but in the senators’ cases, to their own convictions and points of view.
After the primaries, the remaining candidates tend to drift closer to the middle in order to woo voters from across the aisle. Hillary’s success on Super Tuesday shows a trend towards moderatism on the Democratic side. If Hillary can stay off her email for a few months, she may be the only viable candidate come November. However, Cruz, Rubio, Sanders and Trump have never demonstrated the capacity to work meaningfully with those who differ from them ideologically.
In society at large, uncompromising ideologies usually balance themselves out and are a sign of a healthy plurality. Various interests and ideas compete with one another, resulting in a policy outcome that is reasonably close to the center. It’s not perfect, but it’s safe. It’s democratic, so it’s bureaucratic, but it prevents gross injustices on either side. Such plurality is the foundation that the United States is built on. The first pilgrims came to the United States because the governing body of England would not allow for religious diversity. Society depends on the assumption that the government not only accepts, but also represents, differing opinions.
A candidate who refuses to consider and validate points of view from differing parties is too myopic to be President of the United States. It constitutes a refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue with those he or she may disagree with, and an inability to recognize the validity of thought processes and opinions that run contrary to one’s own.
While every president has his or her own predispositions and will be recognized as red or blue, his or her job is not to simply push the country to the right or to the left. A candidate who does not respect the fact that nearly half of the country will differ in political beliefs, who does not recognize that this means he no longer represents solely one party or ideology, who does not realize that he or she needs to mediate on behalf of the entire population, that candidate will be completely ineffective as president.
Barring the fact that such a close-minded approach would render bill passing impossible, foreign policy based on such thoughtless devotion to ideology or philosophy – either past or present – would be inadequate to handle the complex and interconnected international issues that beg the administration’s attention every day.
If Donald Trump cannot recognize that not all Mexicans are rapists, that even if unlawful immigration is a crime, in some circumstances it occurs, in the words of “weak” Jeb Bush, as “an act of love,” and that this ought to be taken into consideration when considering immigration reform, then Trump demonstrates a complete and utter inability to recognize the arguments on the other side of this issue.
But he’s not the only one who is forcing black-and-white interpretations on nuanced and complex issues.In the same vein, if Bernie Sanders can’t recognize that even if world peace shoulddepend on the United States, that presently the U.S military must continue to play a role abroad, then he is not rooted in reality, but in his own imagined utopia. It may be a worthy dream, but it is a fantasy nonetheless. Similarly, Cruz’s refusal to aid a compromise on a 2014 fiscal budget lay at the crux of the 16-day government shutdown.
The president is not a dictator. He or she is not to use brute force or threats to realize a vision for the country. The role entails compromise, negotiation and, maybe, even failure in pursuit of long-term success. The glorious promises of the campaign trail must settle into subtle, but conscientious, decision-making about what can be done to tackle issues facing constituents.
Every election will make promises, but let’s remember what the office of the President can actually do so we may begin to move beyond paying attention to the self-aggrandizing campaigns. Then we can consider who will work to tear down barriers dividing and paralyzing Congress, rather than build walls, not just along our borders, but also around the Oval Office.
Luke Gamble is a sophomore from Eagle, Idaho. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.