“Did people in your office vote for Donald Trump?” my 9-year-old recently asked.
“Yes, they did,” I told her honestly.
“Are you mad at them?” she asked.
“No, I want to understand them,” I responded.
Big Kid, as I refer to her on social media, definitely knows more about politics than your average third-grader. We watch a lot of news, and she knows I used to make my living as a partisan hack. I’ve dragged her to countless rallies, speeches and party events, some of which she pretended to enjoy.
After last year’s election, I wrote her an open letter explaining that life would go on even though Hillary Clinton lost.
It has—though perhaps in a more chaotic way than any of us expected.
That chaos is what she sees of politics today, the fractured world of Washington, where no one can get along with anyone and “forgiveness” is the forbidden f-word.
She wants me to be mad at Trump supporters because they didn’t support Clinton, because she thinks—without my prompting—that Trump treats certain groups of people poorly, that he comes across as a bully.
But she also knows how much I value my co-workers, how we come from all sides of the aisle and how I talk about them as part of a family that’s committed to working on the issue for which we advocate.
So she, like much of America, is confused and conflicted.
We’re almost 100 days into the administration and we’re still grappling with what happened last year.
Congress is investigating whether Americans jumped in bed with foreign governments to potentially influence our election. Pollsters are trying to figure out how they completely overlooked a huge group of Trump voters. Republicans are trying to reconcile their anti-Obamacare promises; Democrats are fighting about who’s progressive enough to lead the party forward.
We’re drowning in partisanship, and it’s impossible to keep up with the blame game.
Call me a hopeless optimist—or just a parent trying to practice what I preach—but I want more than mindless finger-pointing.
And I know there is more. Hidden among the splashy cable packages and click-bait headlines are stories of elected officials working passionately on issues they care about.
We see our U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly quietly building those relationships to help drug addicts and military veterans. There are Republicans, most notably Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, doing the same kind of bipartisan outreach. It’s not glamorous. It’s not sexy. It’s downright old-fashioned, some might say.
In the minutes after Republicans pulled the vote to repeal and replace Obamacare for lack of support, pundits and public servants predictably started piling on: Curse the Freedom Caucus! Darn the Democrats! Trump should have tried harder!
Over the next few days, though, a different narrative emerged: Maybe the president and Congress should try getting some Democrats on board instead of taking their “no” votes for granted.
It sounded a lot like when I tell my kids to ask for things they want instead of assuming a negative outcome. (Every once in a while, I will buy candy from the checkout aisle at Target.)
Let’s stop referring to stories of bipartisan collaboration as “refreshing” and “uplifting” and start expecting that kind of behavior as the norm. Talk through our differences. Find common ground. At least try to understand one another.
It’s not abstract. It’s already happening in the shadows. And it’s so simple a child—my child, in fact—can understand it.•
Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and founding principal of Mass Ave Public Relations, a local public relations and publicity firm. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.