Where has the “middle ground” in politics gone?
Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on January 20th was marked by a long list of Democratic House members who boycotted the event by not attending. Representatives including John Lewis (D-GA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and others decided not to show up.
These politicians gave varying reasons for their decisions; decisions that sounded heartfelt and which in many cases reflected the sentiment of their constituents. This, in and of itself, would seem to be a good thing. However, the greater message of disharmony that the boycotts embodied perpetuated an even deeper divisiveness in Washington that took us farther away from equality and achieving the policy change that would help the very people these Representatives are trying to defend.
I’m a 32-year-old millennial, and also a former Division I athlete. In 2013, at the age of 29, I ran for office. You might say that I have always been something of a “team player.” I like working with other people to get things done, and I’m very competitive.
When I ran for office, I was one of four women out of a pool of 25 candidates competing for a seat on the Cambridge City Council in Massachusetts. Though I lost the race, I earned a solid number of votes, learned a lot about local politics, and completed an outstanding 6-month training with Emerge America, a national program with state branches that trained me and other Democratic women how to run for office.
Today, despite years campaigning for Democrats and running for office myself, I find myself in a nebulous place. I consciously chose to unregister my affiliation, and I now prefer to vote according to the candidate, rather than based solely on party. I don’t align myself with one party over another. While I voted for Hillary Clinton for President, I have accepted Donald Trump’s victory and I’m ready to move forward.
I feel like a rarity, though I hope there are others out there like me. I truly fall into what I would describe as “middle ground politics.” I am turned off by extreme views, rhetoric, and speech by either Republicans or Democrats, and I prefer to vote for candidates who respectfully consider all sides of an issue before making a decision.
As a Massachusetts resident, when I saw Rep. Katherine Clark’s statement on Twitter, I was both surprised and dismayed. She is a candidate for whom I knocked on doors when she ran for Ed Markey’s seat in a special election back in 2013. I felt sad that she did not attend Trump’s inauguration, because I believe it is important for the sake of unity across our country as a whole to honor the process of a peaceful transition of power between administrations.
It’s a privilege to live in this great country and for House Representatives to not attend the inauguration was disrespectful, not merely to Trump and the incoming administration, but to our service men and women who are fighting to defend our freedom at home and abroad, and to the very principles upon which our nation was founded.
While growing up playing sports, I remember on occasion, encountering an angry teammate who disagreed with our coach and refused to show up for the game and play because she didn’t like the things this coach had said or done the day before. I remember thinking that this was a form of rebellion that didn’t actually serve anyone.
Representatives Clark, Lewis, and others, analogous to the athletes I recall in high school and college, seem to have forgotten that while it’s okay to dislike your leader, you signed up to play and you are playing for the same team.
Lewis opted out of the very thing for which he was chosen — or in this case, elected, to do — to fulfill his duty as a Congressman, which in my opinion means to partake in the peaceful transition of presidential leadership, as a representative of his constituency and of this country.
By no means am I saying that Rep. Lewis and others should remain silent about their views and disagreements with the current President. Donald Trump has offended and ostracized many types of people, ethnicities, and religions, and his words have been hurtful and at times, disgraceful.
However, I believe that our Representatives’ energy is best spent doing what they were elected to do: defend existing laws and write new ones. The only way to do that successfully is to garner support from their colleagues — in short, to work with their teammates on Capitol Hill to pass legislation. The fastest way to lose a game is to hog the ball and burn bridges with the very people whose vote of confidence you need to get it all done.
Our U.S. Representatives can take their anger — justified in many cases — and get to work. Instead of not showing up, they can work hard to fight for change around the actual laws and policies that they feel are unjust in the first place.
To have sat out the opening game of the next four years displayed an attitude that was both unsportsmanlike and troubling. It is a stance that sets a foundation for discord and extreme posturing among members of our branches of our government; and it plants a seed of hostility between said Representatives and the President-elect.
Is that the America we want to cultivate?
Serving the greatest good happens when we step into that gray, often uncomfortable and unknown area known as the middle ground. That’s the space where miracles happen. That’s the space where people reach across the aisle, that’s the place where championships are won. That’s the place where we make America the greatest it can be. It’s the place where we are willing to hear those we disagree with and to work with them constructively.
But at the very least, we have to be willing to show up.
Follow Kristen on Twitter: @KristenVonHoff
An earlier version of this article was originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 18, 2017.