Americans don’t think in terms of coalitions. That’s one of the quirks of our separately elected executive. Parliamentary countries talk about coalitions all the time. I don’t want to say that parliamentary systems are better than the American system, they both have their positives and negatives, but I do think that the US would benefit from embracing coalitions. So many of America’s problems seem intractable even though they don’t have to be. In large part this is because the two party system is naturally polarizing.
If we could look at issues independently, we might have a better shot of forming coalitions and fixing some of our problems. You’d never know it from watching the news, but there really is a lot of agreement in this country about many issues. We should look for those points of agreement and get some things accomplished.
As an example, let’s look at the death penalty. I am against the death penalty. My reasons for being anti-death penalty have to do with my views on justice and the role of the state. Basically, I think that justice requires that we try to make things and people better, and killing someone cannot accomplish that. I also think that the role of the state is to protect its citizens, not satisfy their desire for vengeance. That’s a very simplified version of my view, but it lands me squarely anti-death penalty. I know that view is a minority view. But, there are other people who are against the death penalty for different reasons. Catholics and Quakers are anti-death penalty because they believe in the sanctity of life. Deficit hawks are anti-death penalty because it is extremely expensive and wasteful. Minority rights activists are anti-death penalty because it is applied differently for different groups. Social workers are anti-death penalty because mistakes are made, and death is one mistake that cannot be corrected. These are groups of people from all over the political spectrum, but they all have one thing in common, they are against the death penalty. It doesn’t really matter to me that a deficit hawk and I disagree about Obamacare or that a Catholic and I disagree about abortion. We should be able to set all of those other issues aside for a little while. If we would work together on this issue, the death penalty, we could abolish it once and for all.
Our failure to reach out to those whole share our beliefs on only some issues serves to amplify the fringes because only those on the fringe are in complete agreement with each other. It takes a certain kind of fanaticism to agree with anyone completely. I understand why the LGBT community would be hesitant to reach out to veterans organizations. But, homelessness and addiction are issues that hit the LGBT community and veterans disproportionally hard. Together, they could do a lot. Animal rights activists and hunters could work together on habitat preservation. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and environmentalists could work together on public transportation. The possibilities are endless.
As I said before, there is a lot of agreement in this country. It’s a real shame that we let wedge issues divide us. We need to drop them and focus on the issues we can agree on. Coalitions can help make that happen.