Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Time for a coalition

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Last week, after President Trump joined with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pass a bill raising the debt ceiling for three months and providing hurricane relief, the phrase "politics makes strange bedfellows" was on everyone's lips and Twitter feeds. The more appropriate sentiment right now would be the line from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" the phrase is based upon: "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows."

Misery is right. Except for the hardcore group of Trump supporters who gleefully fawn over his every word and act, the entire country seems miserable all the way around. Senate and House majority leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are in uncharted waters and it shows. Sen. Ted Cruz, or an unfortunate staffer, seems to have turned to porn on Twitter for solace if the news accounts are true.

While Hurricane Trump wreaks havoc on everything that is good and decent and democratic, another storm in the Democratic Party just won't let up. Many of us hoped the turmoil between Hillary Clinton's supporters and Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters had finally subsided as both groups rallied together over the past few months to fight draconian changes in health care policy and the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Some of the old animosity is back as Clinton's book "What Happened" is to be released this week.

As evidenced from early excerpts, Clinton throws some shade Sanders' way. Pundits have seized on this and have already started pitting the two sides against each other again while condemning Clinton for releasing a book as things start to heat up for the 2018 mid-term election. I'm not sure when her critics believe the proper time for this book would be. I imagine never would be the answer for most.

What they don't get is that there is a growing group of women announcing for office who want to hear what the first woman nominee from a major party has to say about her defeat. Women who aren't running but are involved in politics also want that perspective. I want that perspective. I want to hear what Clinton has to say now, a year from her loss. I want to hear what she has to say 10 years from now. Hers is a unique voice we have not heard before and will not hear again.

Those who lambast her for speaking out forget that listening to someone's experience is not the same as agreeing with that person's assessment. And if a former nominee's book is so dangerous, then maybe Trump's supporters are right about the whole "snowflake" business.

Truth is, Sanders and Clinton supporters had many of the same goals during the primaries; they just differed on how to achieve them and the rhetoric necessary to argue for those policies. The important thing now is to not lose sight of the damage that can be done to the environment, civil rights and immigrants if the left continues to argue over purity and the past. To fight the religious right and the alt-right (a.k.a. Nazis), the left must be open to forming coalitions on specific issues. Not only between Sanders and Clinton supporters, but also with those on the right. This does not mean adopting a more centrist platform or abandoning certain fights. It just means that on specific issues they must partner with groups who want the same outcome but want it for different reasons.

Why is this so tough? I think part of the problem is because of our complete failure as a country to understand civics. In addition, coalitions are tough and require compromise in a time where seemingly no one wants to compromise. Sometimes that reluctance is warranted. For the young progressives who spend so much energy fighting for civil rights issues, compromising and joining with those who don't share the same humanitarian reasons for their policy positions can be tough. And partnering with those groups probably does mean that battles can be harder in the future if a line is drawn around the groups they want to protect. For example on DACA, a common talking point is that these young people have a clean criminal history. Fact is, most of us know immigrants who are just as deserving who have committed a misdemeanor that makes them ineligible for DACA. By using this language, advocates shore up arguments against that second group.

Similar rhetorical issues exist in criminal justice reform. In Arkansas, some criminal justice reform on drug sentences has been achieved by forming a coalition between those who believe it is immoral to lock up addicts and those who just don't want to spend the money. It was not the comprehensive reform the left wanted, but it's start. And it will help real people.

In Arkansas and in D.C., we are in a storm. A tempest. And as much as we would like to see lifeboats or shelter for all, much of the country does not want those things. It's time to join hands with those who do, even if requires both groups to hold their noses a bit when welcoming our new bedfellows.

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