President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In an era of smoke and mirror politics, we need more substance

“We have tribalism growing in America where people are voting against the candidate of the other party, instead of a vision for their own party. We should be against identity politics and for idea politics that talk about what America means and what are the best policies going forward.” Senator Ben Sasse

As I watched highlights of President Donald Trump’s campaign-style rally in Iowa Wednesday evening and watched Democrats hammer Republicans on Thursday about the Senate Healthcare bill, I thought in frustration how politics just seems like a big game.

Perception has always played a huge role in politics. After all, as political consultant and pollster Frank Luntz wrote in his book Words That Work, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. Like a bull chasing toward a matador, partisan warriors on both side cheer when the cape with their favorite rhetoric is waived only to find nothing but air behind those promises.

This is a problem. Not just because those who recite talking points can be proven hypocritical, but because words do matter. Especially, words from our elected leaders. It was President Trump who claimed that Carrier air conditioning and heating company in Indianapolis, Indiana would be saved in December. That deal, announced with great fanfare, was billed not only as a heroic move to keep jobs from going to Mexico but also as a seismic shift in the economic development landscape. Now almost seven months later, the landscape has not changed. Instead, 100s of employees would be laid off as operations continued to move to Mexico.

President Trump will tell you himself, he is the best, no President has accomplished so much in so little time. Forget that every executive order (even those that I agree with) can be changed by whoever occupies the Oval Office next with one swipe of their pen. I say all this hoping and, yes praying, that the President would be successful. When he does well, the country does well. That is why his one real accomplishment, the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, was impacting.

However, the majority of success that the Trump administration claims has been a mixture of smoke and mirrors and loud tweets. Where is the substance? When reporters ask the Trump administration about content, we instead get a ridiculous war against the media or cries of “fake news.” That may play well to his base, but not for the country.

On the other side of Pennsylvania Ave., we get more kabuki theater. Just a week ago, Democrats and Republicans came together after the tragic shooting at a congressional baseball practice. Unity was the theme. Now, while Rep. Steve Scalise still recovers in the hospital, Senator Elizabeth Warren labels Republicans as heartless opportunist who are paying for their Senate Healthcare bill with “blood money.” Forget that the bill itself is very much Obamacare-lite or that Democrats themselves promised that we could keep our doctors and that premiums would fall for the average family by $2,500. Why let facts stand in the way when you have future elections to win.

While the game plays out, real problems are not being solved. We have a national debt of over $19 trillion. Entitlement programs are going bankrupt and we have no long-term plan to stop cyber attacks. In 1990, the top manufacturing industry in the U.S. was automakers. The top three automakers at the time combined with revenue near $250 billion. They employed 1.2 million Americans. Now, in 2017, the top three Silicon Valley companies have a combined revenue of also $250 billion. The catch is that they only employee 137,000 people. Instead of Congress or the President talking about the future, education, automation, or a changing economic landscape, we get fake claims about the Comey tapes, actually repealing all of Obamacare, or those on the left that say people will die if we simply shrink the government and cut taxes.

More and more it seems like we are getting to a point in society that bad behavior is justified by saying, but the other side did it first. Little children use this excuse. Adults do not. It does not have to be this way. John Adams penned on July 2, 1776, “you will think me transported with enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means.” When Adams wrote these words, he knew the risk he was taking. He and 55 others were signing a pledge all fully aware that the punishment for treason was death by hanging or dismemberment.

The crisis today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice our founders endured. It does, however, require our best effort and our willingness to believe this can change. What we tolerate is on us. After all, we the people elect everyone who serves and we are the ones that can change it.

About the author

Clayton Felts

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