All election night the message was about how the people have spoken with a clear voice and returned Republicans to power.
In Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul called it the “Tea Party tidal wave.”
Or the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said “it’s clear tonight who the real winners are, that’s the American people.” He said change begins again because the “American people are demanding a new way forward.”
Sorry. I beg to differ. Division won. A Republican House of Representatives, a Democratic Senate and White House. (And, if you want to get snippy about it, I would add a Republican-controlled Supreme Court to this list).
We, the American people, are united by our divisions.
The urban core of the United States remains, essentially, a base for Democrats. It’s a similar story for African American, Native American and Latino communities. On the other hand the rural West, Midwest and South remain Republican. Independent voters play the field. This time they went Republican. Last time they favored the Democrats.
Elections are one thing, governing is another. Divided government creates all sorts of problems.
This divided election continues the real differences from our leaders in how we go about solving the problems facing the country. So many of those in Congress who were willing to work across party lines (both Democrats and Republicans) were some of the first politicians defeated.
Indeed, CNN’s exit poll captured this American division well. It reported that a majority of voters did not see the Tea Party as a factor. “The percentage that said they wanted to send a message in favor of the movement (23 percent) was just a few points higher than those who said they were trying to strike a blow against it (18 percent),” CNN reported.
We love the Tea Party – unless we don’t.
The primary issue in this election was jobs. But even that issue divides us.
Many of us wanted more government, action to go about getting the economy unstuck. Others wanted and voted for less government. These were voters who said they did not want corporate bailouts – some were even willing to watch General Motors go out of business without government help. But that would have resulted in higher unemployment, not less.
It’s the same when it comes to government jobs. Many of the most conservative states – Idaho, Alaska and Nevada – would not have been as economically successful without massive federal spending on nuclear power or dams. Federal spending (or investment if you’re on the other side of the divide) created wealth.
Consider how this divided election impacts one small constituent group: American Indians and Alaska Natives. The new chairman of the House committee that will move legislation on these issues will be Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington. He opposed adding the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to last year’s health care bill. I suppose now he will be trying to include that bill in any health care repeal. On the other side of the Capitol, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell will likely be the new chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. She was a staunch supporter of the Indian Health Care legislation. It will be interesting to watch these two leaders try and find common ground.
Play out this scenario of division across the board on issues ranging from how we reduce the deficit to how much we tax ourselves.
I have one small wish. We need to find a way to reach consensus on our most thorny problems. I’d like to see our political discourse employ more “if, then” language. “If we do this, then that means …” Fill in the blanks and debate the options. We may be a divided people, but we still have to figure out how to govern ourselves over our own divisions.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s new book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.