A plea to young adults

Opinion: Columns

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By Brian Holt

One View

I applaud you for finding your public voice. Your activism is inspirational. But demonstrations without a plan to achieve electoral success will not result in transformative change. Politicians know we need, and the public supports, smarter gun laws. Nothing happens because we allowed partisan ideologues to hijack the political system, and they've left us mired in stalemate. 

If you want change you need to organize an activist electoral strategy to break it. By now you will have heard that 97% of Americans support universal background checks for gun sales. Critics may call that reactionary, but even before Parkland 84% of Americans (77% of gun owners and 87% of non-gun owners) supported universal background checks, 89% of gun owners and non-gun owners supported better measures to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing firearms, and 71% (54% of gun owners and 80% of non-gun owners) supported creating a database to track gun sales. (Pew Research Center Data). 

Those unfamiliar with American politics would be shocked that proposals with those numbers are labeled divisive. But similar numbers exist for other so-called "divisive" issues. (Look at the number of Americans who support secure borders but reject the border wall and support status for "Dreamers.") Look at a political map of blue and red and you can't help but see a polarized country divided along strict partisan lines. 

But many Americans are not ideologically consistent and hold a mix of liberal and conservative views. Plenty of Democrats are critical of high taxes, government waste, over-regulation, and deficit spending. Plenty of Republicans are socially liberal, concerned with the environment and economic inequality, and support raising corporate taxes. 

Why can't we find consensus on such fertile ground for compromise? We've forgotten that compromise brought us our most important political accomplishments. Compromise saved the Constitution by giving states equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House. It gave us a Bill of Rights, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Great Society, Social Security Reform in '83, tax reform in '86, and protection from disability discrimination in the '90s. 

Our very system of government, with powers separated between federal and state governments, and branches within the government, was designed to achieve compromise. Some blame money and lobbyists for the breakdown. But they disguise the broader problem caused by a disengaged citizenry vaguely aware that something happens in politics outside federal general elections. Then, a handful show up and complain about the Hobson's choice between a candidate they cannot support and one they have no choice but to support. 

That's what happens when you hand the keys over to the highly partisan ideological wings and embrace political tribalism. Many Americans identify as conservative or liberal, but the majority fall in the ideological middle with views that cross the center line. 

But they don't participate. Only a small number vote in general elections and smaller numbers vote in primaries where the candidates are selected. In contrast, the highly partisan ideological wings, who view the other side with animosity and distrust, are highly engaged. The candidates who emerge from primaries reflect the voters who vote in them. By then the die is cast. Since we naturally trust those in our group and are skeptical of those outside it, we cannot cross party lines and vote for "their" highly partisan ideologue over "our" highly partisan ideologue, even if we'd prefer another option because our candidate does not reflect our values. 

Most politicians don't fear punishment from the majority. They fear punishment from their base, a problem exacerbated by political gerrymandering, where the only risk to re-election is surviving a primary. The result is consistent overrepresentation of the ideologues and underrepresentation of the majority. 

You can change that, but not with blind party voting. Move us past party politics into a cross-ideological or post-ideological era. Challenge the stale "wisdom" of party unity. Don't just threaten to withhold a vote from a politician you weren't likely to vote for. Be open to re-electing politicians who do the right thing regardless of party affiliation.  Educate yourselves on the issues and test the strength of your convictions by seeking out contrary views. That's how you gain perspective and find the nuance in issues. Then identify candidates who share your values, who can attract independents and cross-party voters, actively support their campaigns, and vote for them in primary and general elections. 

Do what prior generations have failed to do: Be highly engaged citizens who disregard party loyalty and political tribalism. Do that, and you'll break the stalemate on this issue and ignite a movement to take back the system. 

Brian Holt is a resident of Oak Park. 

Reader Comments

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Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 26th, 2018 10:54 PM

Mr. Holt...Thank you for the most common sense piece I have read from The Journal in a long time. Your approach is sensible, reasonable and prudent.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: May 26th, 2018 10:20 AM

"Many Americans are not ideologically consistent and hold a mix of liberal and conservative views." So very true. That fact is frequently lost is so many discussions.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 26th, 2018 7:42 AM

Compromise is key, only after clarity of the issue. I have been involved in this discussion now for about two years. The UBC is brought up and fairly so. I have asked the questions, in this forum,what agency will hold the paper, do the work, what is the budget,,what are the questions asked and now what is the appeal process. No response. I might have this wrong, after the Las Vega shooing, 20 million in Bloomberg money,funneled into Nevada in order to get the state to issue some type of back round check. The issue passed, gun owners got in contact with the agency and asked for applications. The agency said not us, we were never notified have no budget or direction. The Nevada States Attorney acknowledged the law, said they wont enforce the law.Back to square one Here in Illinois, we have the Firearms Owner Identification Card. Supposedly every day the car holder is checked for having been arrested . The question is if we go to the ubc, which would check the same data base as FOID, do we abandon the Illinois Card and how does the Governor deal with the loss of patronage state jobs? One or the other, not both. The compromise is how do we get other states to deal with this issue. Possibly waive all fees. In our discussions, Dr. Barrett took the floor and was about to read a list of gun restrictions. I raised my hand and asked that Dr. B., yield the floor for two minutes, in order to list our restrictions. He did so and I asked young Matt Uddelson to read off a list of restrictions. Dr. B. was pleased and said now we are getting somewhere. However, the restrictions were in place for the last 40 years, the restrictions were the FOID card restrictions .Compromise is fine, after clarity of the issue.

Alexis Robertson  

Posted: May 25th, 2018 5:24 PM

"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy...." -A. Hamilton Keep writing (even though you still need an editor.)

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