Let’s begin in 1787, the year of the Constitutional Convention. There, the representatives of the 13 States gathered to create the rules for what was already envisioned as a great nation.
Fifty-five delegates came together in the blazing summer heat, bringing many different perspectives, experiences, and opinions. They had been bound together during the war against England and were still on the high that accompanies the winners of a long and deadly war.
They had one idea in common: no King! Beyond that, the delegates had a wide range of ideas of how to organize, manage, and govern the new country. Their eventual plan, the last of many, left some questions unanswered, in particular questions about slavery, federalism, term limits, and the scope of powers of the Supreme Court.
George Washington presided over this unruly process, and intervening rarely. At the time, he was already everyone’s choice to be the first President, though he evidently made it clear he preferred retiring to Mt. Vernon. But he ultimately made it clear that he preferred himself to the alternatives.
Many of the participants came to dislike many others. But though their personalities were disparate, they had one goal—to build a government. Failure was not an option, and they did not fail.
Now let’s fast forward. Obamacare had been “rammed through” Congress by Obama in 2009, while he still had majorities in both houses. The Republicans had decided immediately after the election to deny ANY support for any significant Obama proposal in a misguided effort to limit him to one term in office, but not only did Obama and the leaders in the House and Senate reach out for Republican support, they also reached out for ideas from them.
The failure of the Republicans to provide input in good faith is likely the reason Obamacare had the flaws it does. And when Obama lost control of the Congress, all the Republicans had to say about healthcare was that Obamacare had to be repealed. They never put forward a real alternative plan.
In 2016, Trump stumbled into the Presidency promising a better healthcare plan in all respects for all. But like the Republican Congress in the last few years, he had no plan.
Though the Republicans have passed a plan in the House, the Senate appears unable to pass a plan that might acceptable to a majority of our citizens.
Over this recent 4th of July recess the whole country—some said over 2/3rd of the population—poured out their hearts to Senators and Congress people everywhere (those who actually held town halls) that they despised the two Republican plans on the table.
Finally, Mitch Mc Connell has signaled that perhaps he might just reach out to Democrats for ideas on how to fix Obamacare, which Democrats have been trying to do for years. And, now the “I said, she said” game will be about who reached out first or who refused to reach back.
There are big differences between 1787 and 2017. Political parties were invented; a civil war was fought over slavery; we became the most dominant economic and military force in the world; our population has become polarized geographically and economically; and the internet and TV has further fractionated our populace.
In 1930, about 40% of our population still lived in rural America. Today less than 2% of our population lives in rural America.
Fewer and fewer people know the names of their neighbors. People are glued to their internet devices, and their views of their world are focused on what they already believed. The echo chamber of social media does not always connect people; it often amplifies ignorance, prejudice, and misinformation.
The good old days of 1787 when it was possible for a group of different citizens to thrash out an imperfect plan to operate a great nation, have given way to a world in which there is no real conversation in Congress about how to solve today’s biggest problems.
Some years ago a woman at a country club seized some hot dogs already set aside for a woman who preceded her. When the woman who lost her hot dogs identified the hot dog thief, she asked a mutual friend why the other woman had behaved that way. The answer was: “Oh my God, if I had known that was her, I never would have done that!”
If we knew those 22 million Americans likely to lose their health care, perhaps more of us could think of them as real people. But when we think the only people who matter are those who are just like us, we have arrived at a point where Democracy as we know it needs to be rethought and perhaps rejiggered.