So many of us have spent the last year in close quarters learning more than we ever wanted to about conflict resolution. Our homes have become laboratories for negotiation as we work through hurt feelings, limited resources, frustrating boundaries and lots of stress. We try to resolve conflict because our closest relationships matter to us, and we know that it harms our peace and productivity.
This is true of our national family as well. Finding common ground and building consensus is how democracies move ahead. Achieving consensus requires us to exhibit sincere care for our political opponents and to engage with them with integrity and patience. In theory, our elected officials should be experts at conflict resolution. But in practice, they often escalate conflict in order to benefit from it, taking positions calculated simply to bring attention on social media.
All too often this political posturing replaces actual governance. Case in point: HR1, which passed the House (for the second time) last week. This bill contains multiple provisions which are extremely popular with the majority of Americans. It seeks to make registering and voting easier, and would establish independent redistricting commissions aimed at reducing gerrymandering and toxic partisanship. It also contains ethics reforms that diffuse political power and reduce private gain from public service by requiring the disclosure of presidential tax returns and setting limits on the “revolving door” between government and industry.
Right now, HR1 is a Democratically sponsored omnibus, and so it is fair to approach it with healthy skepticism. We rarely get our best legislation without bipartisan engagement. There are provisions in this bill that provoke reasonable opposition. Examples include free speech concerns about some campaign finance reform measures, and legitimate questions about overly centralizing our voting systems and regulations.
However, there isn’t any substantive GOP engagement with any aspect of the bill. Not one Republican has offered to work on portions they don’t like. Instead, they share memes and misleading claims about the bill that block productive conversations. One Republican senator has even attacked the bill with insults that literally demonize its authors. This should trouble us all, because it represents something beyond cynicism or ideological insecurity.
When combined with ongoing acts of voter suppression and widespread lies about the 2020 election, the party is sending a clear signal that losses at the ballot box will be met with efforts to limit voter access and undermine systems. We must not allow any politician to sacrifice democracy to gain party advantage.
This problem with compromise isn’t isolated to the GOP. There is little evidence that Democrats are open to negotiating on the bill’s contents. Their focus has been on political tactics, such as abandoning the filibuster, that would allow them to pass the bill without bipartisan support. But if voting reforms are as urgent as they say, Democrats should be willing to sacrifice points of contention in order to reinforce and stabilize the foundational elements of our democratic systems. This would also allow some Republicans to signal their clear support for voting rights and access. A commitment to maximize participation in voting must be disentangled from partisan advantage.
We have conflict, but we don’t seem to have many attempts at resolution.
Resolving some conflict now has the promise to create more harmony in the future. Many reforms included in the bill will reduce long-term tension and distribute power more evenly. Equal and fair access to voting will curtail gerrymandering and polarization. It would diffuse public cynicism about government and help advance our national promise that all citizens should have the right to vote on how their country is run.
Strong legislation regarding ethics reduces the concentration of power. These reforms would apply to all office holders, regardless of party — including the current administration. Why are Republicans eager to obstruct Democrats who are willing to police themselves?
Many Americans identify as either center-left or center-right. We are weary of watching our political representatives fight. We seek leaders who will broker solutions to our national problems and move us forward. We want our senators to get into a room together and hammer this out.
Democrats — let go of some things on your wishlist to preserve the truly essential ones. Republicans — stop trying to obstruct voting and begin to engage with the arguments before us. The majority of Americans want their national family to work together toward common goals, and we expect you to lead the way.
Emma Petty Addams is the executive director and Jennifer Walker Thomas is the senior director of strategy for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.