The room went from lighthearted, business banter to that record-scratch before the awkward silence. A client introduced the small conference room of staff and consultants to a newly hired senior advisor. Sharply dressed and sharp-tongued, after casual introductions, this new guy chose to break the ice with this gem:
“So, did all of you vote for Trump?”
Did I hear this guy correctly? He’s asking other consultants and staff if they voted for Donald Trump for President? I mean I was sitting at one of my more conservative client’s offices, but this was uncharted territory. It seemed both a bit surreal and then again, every bit normal for this is 2017, after all.
I watched as he moved his bigly query around the circle, and the answers from those before me weren’t particularly bold and mostly involved some rather impressive verbal acrobatics with a swift punt of the ball to the next person in the room.
Now, it was my turn. I didn’t give him the “full German,” what I call the equivalent of a guttural tongue-lashing, but I’m not going to lie that I was tempted to do so. Where did he get off asking employees and other consultants this kind of question?
So, I quipped sternly and firmly, “If you Google Jennifer Waisath Harris and Washington Post or Texas Tribune, you’ll find your answer. I have made it pretty clear early and often that I was Never Trump.”
The look he gave me was nothing short of the human embodiment of that Bette Davis quote, “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”
What followed was a brief explanation by this unabashed hyper-partisan of why it was important for Republicans like us to stick together and get behind our President now. “Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for the party,” he said.
Blind loyalty to anything or anyone has never been my thing. And, over the past two years, as Trump’s candidacy went from a downward escalator campaign entry to his ascendency to the highest office in the land, it became increasingly clear that if I was going to maintain my integrity, it was time to run from the proverbial dumpster fire that the GOP had created, fueled and let burn unabated.
What was I running from exactly?
I ran from the misogyny, the racism and the bullying.
I ran from the “alternative facts” spewed daily by the President’s campaign and now his Administration.
I ran from the uncomfortably cozy, inexplicably close Russian ties that the President and his allies try to explain away with screams of “fake news.”
I ran from a foreign policy that prefers chaos and aggression over diplomacy and long-standing alliances in NATO and around the globe.
I ran from a party that over and over again puts politics over policy and that hastened what Tom Nichols’ coined, “the death of expertise,” with its hyper anti-rationalism, confirmation bias and “a resistance to intellectual authority.”
I ran from the unwillingness of a GOP-led Congress to serve as a constitutional check on the egregious violations of the Trump Administration in just its first nine months.
I ran from a party that would rather build walls than bridges.
And, so here I sit. I’m a political orphan looking for a home. But, don’t feel bad for me. I’ve long loathed hyper-partisanship, from the far left and the far right. And, now I have a true sense of independence and freedom, and honestly, it’s both pretty refreshing and strangely empowering.
I know one thing is certain, we’re going to need leaders who are willing to put country over party, reach across the aisle and help us rebuild trust in our institutions.
Is anyone brave enough to build that bridge and walk across it?
I saw it in Sen. John McCain’s (R-Arizona) bold vote against the Senate’s misguided attempt at Obamacare repeal and replace. I see it in Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), who has not been afraid to call out the President or his party when he sees both adrift. I see it in Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) whose book, Conscience of a Conservative, while drawing the ire of the President, reflects an honest assessment of the GOP and conservatism and a blueprint for a path forward. I can look to Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who preaches the gospel of bipartisanship and compromise at a time when we need to not only hear it, but act on it and has led the call, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) to take a bipartisan approach to health care reform.
These outspoken GOP leaders’ voices are, I hope, paving the way for others to be courageous enough to speak out and, then, to act in the best interests of the country.
Sen. McCain proved one vote in Congress can be a game changer, but until we start to see more Republicans willing to speak out in ways like these other leaders have, the status quo will persist. Until we see more efforts like Kasich and Hickenlooper’s bipartisan effort on health care, where complex policy and respectful discourse are valued over the politics of no, we’ll be stuck here.
You may not agree with these leaders on every issue, nor should you. But, let’s start to look at politics as less of a zero-sum game and one that can involve a more open, inclusive debate of the issues with a focus on finding common ground – among voters and our leaders.
Politics shouldn’t be a race to the bottom, but that’s what it feels like right now. We’re going to need and, hopefully, see a significant course correction in the 2018 mid-terms. I’ll be there in the primary election and again in November, looking for those on the ballot who embrace bipartisanship, compromise and whose campaigns are grounded in substance, not the politics of fear and division. And, when I show up at the polling place in November 2018, it’s not going to matter whether they’ve got a D or an R beside their name. Are you with me?