Maria Gutzeit | It’s No Time for Extremists: Work Together

It is well past time for political extremism and the resultant inaction to become a thing of the past. It starts with us.

I recently finished two awesome books.

“Thank You For Being Late” by Thomas Friedman is subtitled, “An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in an Age of Accelerations.”

It’s full of fascinating stuff, including great detail on the speed of technologic advancement and how it affects the worldwide economy. Interestingly, Friedman closes the book with stories about the community where he grew up, Minnesota’s St. Louis Park.

A decidedly middle-class suburb, they welcomed all but held “certain bedrock values….as non-negotiable.”

They believed in providing a hand, not handouts. Their community leaders saw the failures of divisive and divided politics and got together and made a commitment to “evidence-based decision making” and “owning best practices” and today the area continues to thrive.

I also read “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World” by Hans Rosling. This book is provided free by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates to any recent college graduate who requests it. (www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Factfulness#)

Rosling demonstrates that through bias and outdated information, even CEOs and world leaders get facts about important issues really wrong. He details a better way to assess what is important.

One subset of that is his admonition to activists to stop harping about impending disaster, because, he proves, most things are getting better. It doesn’t mean things shouldn’t be worked on, but it does mean we should seek possibilities instead of fear mongering and perpetuating us vs. them thinking, which only leads to bad decisions.

We’re in the lull before the November elections. I’m not the only one wishing for the era of extreme partisanship to end. Republicans and Democrats alike just want it to stop.

And therein lies the solution. We can hope that voters and electeds alike remember the bell curve. Most people reside right in the middle, politically, not on the fringes. The fastest rising registration in California is “Decline to State” for a reason.

Resist using the words Democrat or Republican before every policy discussion and instead talk about issues without labels. How about listening to people on the street, rather than activists on the news? Talk to your neighbors. I’ve had fascinating conversations with an immigrant taxi driver about Uber and our president; a teacher about tax cuts and public lands; and a chemist about homelessness.

Not one response was what social media or pundits would lead you to believe, and that’s a good thing.

On July 24, NPR featured an interview with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse from Nebraska. When asked if the proposed farm subsidies to make up for President Trump’s tariffs were a good thing for Republicans up for re-election, he all but said he didn’t care about politics. He said his farmers need a market, not a handout, and are currently below breaking even with large debt payments looming.

Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, from a district just south of where I grew up in rural Illinois, is another example of practicality. In May 2017 she told Politico how she won by 20 points in an area that heavily favored Donald Trump:

“‘Don’t talk down to people — you listen,’ she stressed. When she does talk, she talks as much as she can about jobs and wages and the economy and as little as she can about guns and abortion and other socially divisive issues.”

A good friend of mine, a Democrat, scores some amazing wins by working with Republicans. She says they are all together in the “get along” party. I’m sure she’s not the only one who is achieving great things in meetings that might cause local gossips’ jaws to drop.

It’s high time to say that’s the right way to operate. Everyone who wants something…be it more affordable education, lower medical costs (thank you, Councilman Miranda, for your recent op-ed!) safer communities, energy efficiency, infrastructure improvements, or affordable housing best stop betting on one party or the other and start working with both.

Whether through local civic engagement, casting a vote, or making things better in our own neighborhoods, we simply don’t have the leisure of working solely with the fraction of the population registered in the same political party as we are. At least not if we want to get anything done.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.

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