How Can Ordinary Citizens Bridge The Partisan Divide?
From the gridlock in Washington, to actual physical clashes between protestors on the streets of Portland, and now a series of what appear on the face of it politically-motivated bomb scares. The party lines seem more entrenched than ever. Indeed, several experts told the Texas Standard just last month – the political center just isn't holding.
It’s no surprise people are angry and divided. Some of the most contentious issues in politics today – things like gun rights, abortion, and immigration – get to the core of how people identify themselves – and what they believe the country stands for.
Individual elections, court rulings, judicial appointments, and the outcomes of bills are cast as “wins” and “losses” for either the Republicans or Democrats. Garland resident David Hasley is fed up.
"We are tired of the BS, we want the US," Hasley says.
Hasley was wearing a red and blue checked shirt the day of our interview. It matched the pin on his chest that said "UnifyUS." It’s the name of a movement he’s trying to lead to encourage civil political discourse, cooperation, and compromise.
"We just need to tweak it and get it back to ‘we the people’ run it rather than the Republican party or the Democratic party because that doesn’t necessarily represent ‘we the people’ – it represents a small percentage of the people, I believe," Hasley says.
His plan? Get people to sign up online and tell him what they believe most people can agree on – maybe things like infrastructure and education – then he’ll send that information to their representatives.
"Let’s figure out a way to come to the middle and sit there and say, hey, how can we fix these issues that we can agree on and then build the trust so we can reach out to the things that we disagree on and we’ll have a better chance of coming up with a solution that’s best for both sides," Hasley says.
Hasley isn’t coming to all of this from a political background. He was in education and then left a business career to do this full time. His big inspiration was his family.
"You know I’ve got five kids and when we go on vacation, just finding out where we’re going to eat, you know OK, we would cuss and discuss and figure out, OK – do we want nuggets, do we want burgers? We can do that," Hasley says.
Hasley says what he’s really missing to get this done is contacts – people with a way to get his vision in front of someone like Oprah.
Wimberley resident Matthew Dowd may be just that person. While Dowd may not have Oprah’s direct line – he does have serious connections in politics. He worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush. He also has big connections in media – he’s the Chief Political Analyst for ABC News. And he’s the founder of a movement of his own – Country Over Party. Dowd wants to see the emergence of third parties and/or the evolution of current ones.
"There’s this psychological problem right now and it’s the biggest hurdle to getting to where we want to go which is – I gotta pick between one of the two and if I don’t pick between one of the two then my vote’s a waste," Dowd says.
Getting people out of that two-party structure may seem impossible. But Dowd says this fraught political moment may be just what is needed to precipitate another big readjustment in the system.
"Well great change never happens unless people are frustrated and upset," Dowd says. "We’ve gone through instances in our American history where we have been as troubled and as tribalized as we are now. It’s happened a few times. And we’ve come out of those better."
There was the Civil War, of course, and then the restructuring after the Great Depression. But to actually get from simply Democrat versus Republican to something else in politics… Dowd says it’ll take lots of little steps by individuals.
Individuals, perhaps, like Austinite Preston Waller. He didn’t start a movement with a catchy slogan. He’s just a voter who has long leaned Republican – but who is frustrated with the current tone.
"I could tell you more about where my vote is not going to go at this point," Waller says. "Typically I would place party as an influential factor in that but, in this situation, I feel I’m best off voting for the candidate as opposed to the party."
If you’re thinking that seems pretty obvious… think about the last time you actually did the same. Waller says he’s not happy with the direction of the Republican party but Democrats listening shouldn’t take that as a win.
"I think starting in a position that puts you in a different category as others automatically can put people on the defensive and can keep them from working on principles and base values that can be important to both sides," Waller says.
UnifyUs Founder David Hasley agrees.
"One of my dreams is to have the CEO of Pepsi and Coca Cola to sit and say, here is my Coke, here is my Pepsi and take a sip and say, ‘Oh, I see why you like Pepsi or I see why you like Coke,'" Hasley says.
The message from all three of these fed up Texans seems to be that any change isn’t going to come from parties or politicians – but just regular people.