In politics, the winner takes all.
And in November, the Republicans were the winners both in Washington and Indiana. For Hoosiers, that means one-party government in every single national or statewide office.
With it comes an extraordinary ability by Republicans to advance their agenda. That’s as it should be. Elections have consequences.
But this is a republic, not an autocracy.
And with that in mind, I’d urge Republicans to remember that with incredible power comes incredible responsibility. Now, more than in split government, those in power must pay attention to not just those who voted for them but also those who didn’t.
By now, everyone is familiar with the presidential vote totals. About 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. With the Electoral College, Trump is legitimately the president. But a wise president would realize he has no mandate, and certainly not one that tells a majority of the nation their views count for nothing. Trump, though, mocks political opponents as enemies and losers, giving a whole new meaning to “bully pulpit.”
In the U.S. Senate, 4 million more votes were cast overall for Democrats—a less-meaningful statistic since a Senate race is obviously not national. But the voices of those 45.2 million Americans who voted for a Democrat deserve to be heard along with those of the 39.3 million who wanted Republicans in charge there.
In addition, there is only one party in Indiana or Washington that can exercise any oversight over the executive branches: Republicans. Few things in politics are harder than going against one’s own party. Tough. No one becomes a profile in courage by falling in line. And with President Trump, it’s up to Congress to say no when saying yes goes against the nation’s interests.
When President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Republicans refused to grant him even a hearing. It was an unprecedented dereliction of the Senate’s responsibility. At the time, an Indiana Republican defended the decision to me, saying the GOP senators weren’t there to rubber-stamp Obama.
No, they weren’t, but they were not sent there to just say no to everything, either. Nor are they there now to rubber-stamp Trump. Yet so far, that is all we have seen. A GOP that used to believe in free trade, balanced budgets and a strong NATO now applauds a president threatening to blow up all three. They seem more afraid of being belittled in a tweet than they do of abandoning their professed principles.
The flip side of this is that Democrats, angry after eight years of GOP obstruction of Obama, are now calling for the same “just say no” reaction against Trump and the GOP Congress. I’ve got a Twitter inbox full of leftists who see any sign of cooperation as betrayal. And right-wingers who demanded no cooperation under Obama are now blasting out tweets that Democrats need to “get over it” and get with the program.
It’s a bipartisan recipe for continued polarization, animosity and failed government.
So I’m asking Democrats: Stop the schoolyard game of, “He started it.” And I’m imploring Republicans: Hear those who didn’t vote for you. Go to events where you will meet Democrats and independents. Seek input from colleagues across the aisle. Read the mail from the constituents who are upset and ask yourself if they have a point.
You have the majority. Don’t let it become a tyranny.•
Schneider covered Indiana government and politics for The Indianapolis Star for more than 20 years. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.