George Washington, magnificent founding father to whom the nation and all the world’s free peoples owe a debt of gratitude, warned fellow Americans as he left the first presidency in 1796 that extreme partisanship would lead to the “ruins of public liberty.” A stable, civil society, he cautioned, requires resisting intolerant extremes.
Today, we find ourselves locked in an untenable, repugnant political climate ruled by the far left and far right that has created the kind of civic crisis Washington warned of. Just when it seemed the level of enmity in the public square could not get higher, the debate of when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement should be appointed has taken us to a new and dangerous low — with brazen inconsistency from Republicans and frightening threats from Democrats to undo vital freedom-protecting institutions if they do not get their way. Our republic was not designed to withstand this level of perpetual political hatred and zero-sum congressional gamesmanship.
The country needs to take a collective deep breath and rethink how we govern ourselves. Substantive and sober political discourse, a critical ingredient to self-government, simply no longer exists. Our partisan factions, as self-righteous as ever, speak only to themselves — while screeching down others. Free societies cannot function this way.
A sense of fairness and decency that is unreservedly needed in democratic government has been lost. Partisans judge those outside their party with reliability and intensity while abandoning any standards when it comes to those within theirs.
Americans have convictions and a right to fight for them. Democracy, in fact, demands that. But we would be well-served to listen and love the neighbor we disagree with more. It is time for a departure from this base and poisonous partisan environment and a return to a respectful public policy debate where disagreement can be both passionate and respectful. We need a political reset. Now.
Andy Brehm, Minneapolis
• • •
If President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans replace Ginsburg before a new president is sworn in come January, five of the nine justices, a majority, will have been put on the court by presidents who came into office after losing the popular vote. The majority of Supreme Court justices will be people put on the court by presidents the majority of Americans said should not be in a position to make such an appointment.
Conservatives continually talk about being a silent majority while not being able to produce a majority of votes for the president. What we now have is a country where every vote does not count equally. We have a country controlled by a minority of the population. That must change!
Roland Hayes, Shoreview
• • •
I get frustrated seeing constant references to how Ginsburg was an inspiration “to women and girls.” Yes, she was and is a remarkable role model for women and girls. But, she was and is a role model for all (including men and boys). We need to stop implying that exceptional women can only be role models for women and girls. Men and boys can and should feel inspired by the life and career of an exceptional person like Ginsburg, and it is critical that we start encouraging them to be. Rest in power, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Allison Agre, Minneapolis
• • •
For all those Democrats and their holy indignation about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing before Ginsburg’s body was cold that he’d appoint her replacement before the election: You’re like someone watching a football game for the first time going, “I can’t believe it! Five minutes ago they were trying to stop the run, now they’re trying to force the run.” It’s called defense and offense. The only difference is that in this case it’s McConnell on both sides of the ball. Get over it. All this talk about the Supreme Court only distracts from the coronavirus crisis and helps not just Trump but also Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one possibly the single most despicable public servant in the history of this country, the other, well, Trump.
Michel Janssen, Minneapolis
• • •
Political polarization, the pandemic, the economic shutdown, storms, fires, riots, impeachment and a presidential election — what could make 2020’s perfect storm worse? A Supreme Court opening, that’s what.
Iconic liberal justice Ginsburg died, and political maneuvering has started. Predictably, Democrats and Republicans exchange sides on arguments about replacing election-year court vacancies, depending on which party holds the presidency and the Senate.
Ginsburg’s deathbed wish was that the next president should choose her successor. But she doesn’t own the right to that decision, and we’ve forgotten her September 2016 comment on that topic: “The president is elected for four years, not three years, so the power he has in year three continues into year four.” Then: “Maybe members of the Senate will wake up and appreciate that that’s how it should be.”
Republicans hold the presidency and the Senate, which gives them the absolute right to nominate a replacement and vote in the Senate. It would be naive for Republicans to gratuitously defer and await the winner of the presidential election.
I’m not being hypocritical. I’m simply recognizing that collegiality is a two-way street. Next time, the “other team” wouldn’t reciprocate. Of that we can be sure.
Steve Bakke, Edina
A new format? Yes, please.
Absolutely yes to a commentary writer’s suggestion about replacing the presidential debates with a quiz about the responsibilities in the job they are seeking, the president of the United States (“Forget debates. How about a candidate quiz?” Opinion Exchange, Sept. 21). But I would suggest a slightly different format. Several years ago, the TV series “The Newsroom” put forward a novel concept for presidential debates. Instead of “softball questions” and very brief time to respond, the staff of the fictitious cable news anchor, Will McAvoy, put together a format consisting of challenging questions to the critical issues of the day. The moderators assumed the role of “prosecutors” and were poised to challenge each candidate to defend their positions, actions and proposals.
Whatever the format, we should at least expect the networks is to assign “qualified” moderators. I’m glad Chris Wallace was selected for the first debate, but how about journalists like Jonathan Swan from Axios?
Mike Reeves, Lake Elmo
• • •
A game show instead of a debate might be entertaining, but I would like to change our current debate rules: Fact checkers would give immediate feedback before moving to the next question. President Donald Trump and Joe Biden would get a brief chance to clarify any issues from the fact checking. Next, a moderator would sum up the answer before moving to the next question. The subjects for debate would be public, so debaters and listeners know they will speak/hear about the issues at some point. This would help keep Biden and Trump on subject.
One last point: I would like our next president to be sworn into office on the Constitution, not a Bible.
Betsy Carnahan, Edina
• • •
Les Bendtsen makes the point that political candidates (I say especially presidential candidates) should be given a quiz to see what they know about the job. I would go more basic: Make them take the citizenship examination and require a passing grade of 95%. I wonder how many would fail.
Harald Eriksen, Brooklyn Park
We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts here.