Fifteen to twenty years ago Clarence Thomas used to speak of courage as the fundamental virtue that was necessary (and most sorely lacking) in our political system. At the time I believe he was probably right.
But in our current political environment the virtue that is most lacking is gratitude.
Mary Kathryn “Heidi” Heitkamp is the only Democrat in North Dakota currently holding an office elected on the statewide ballot. She has stood fast in her support for Obama and Clinton despite their unpopularity here and the damage their policies impose on her constituents. She voted for the Iran deal,defended Planned Parenthood, advocated for Obamacare and even voted to have taxpayer funds used to pay for abortions.
One might expect her to be a hero to the Democrat base but after just one vote in favor the Keystone XL pipeline her facebook page was peppered with commenters proclaiming her a “Democrat-in-name-only” as angered left-wing constituents swore they would never support her again.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It’s not a bad thing to have political enemies… but politics in this country is a majoritarian undertaking. If your enemies list makes up more than half of the country you have no chance of accomplishing anything meaningful in politics.[/mks_pullquote]
The base of the Republican party purports to despise President Obama’s initiatives to institute wage controls, universal daycare, gun control, cap and trade and card check. Yet for all this supposed opposition to these ideas they show not one scintilla of gratitude to congressional Republicans who are keeping these policies from becoming law. There is even less gratitude shown towards the members of the donor class who have voluntarily put up hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to help get these congressional Republicans elected. Nor does the donor class have any gratitude at all for the base and the votes they provide to makes those hundreds of millions of dollars effective.
Politics in a republic is a group activity. Only in a dictatorship or a monarchy can a single individual affect political change. In a republic a coalition is necessary to accomplish anything. And every single political coalition in our republic is rife with ingratitude and its corollary, a sense of entitlement.
The donors believe they deserve more from the base and the politicians. The base believes they deserve more from the donors and the politicians. Finally the politicians believe they deserve more credit and support from both the donors and the base.
Our fellow citizens are the reason no one ever drowns trying to escape Florida and get to Cuba. Our fellow citizens are the reason that people crossing the Rio Grande looking for a better life for their family are more likely to be heading north than south. But gratitude for the quality of people that God has placed here with us seems to be a lot less common than anger that the country is not heading in the direction that we think it should.
It’s not a bad thing to have political enemies. Anyone who has read this column knows that I have many. But politics in this country is a majoritarian undertaking. If your enemies list makes up more than half of the country you have no chance of accomplishing anything meaningful in politics. A devoted sports fan can passionately despise all the fans of all the other teams but anyone who wants to affect political change in a republic has to find a way to coalesce with at least half of the electorate.
If you can’t find a way to do that then your involvement in politics isn’t actually about changing things, it’s just about entertaining yourself. But these kind of coalitions are only possible when gratitude for what we believe in common overcomes the disdain we feel when we find areas of disagreement.