The Planted Row: Time to look in the mirror

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

I’ve heard it said that an ancient Chinese curse reads, “May you live in interesting times.”

Folks, we live in interesting times.

Not long ago, I asked my father-in-law — who traveled from New York to Mississippi to help black people register to vote during the civil rights movement — if he had ever seen the country this divided. He replied that he’s never seen it this divided — not even in 1968. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have widened that divide, driving family members, friends and neighbors further apart.

I don’t want to weigh in on whether or not Kavanaugh should have been confirmed. That debate has already played out all over the country, and you’re probably sick of it by now. Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular moment in the confirmation process.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Kavanaugh (in what would be a straight party-line vote), Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., spoke about the extreme partisan nature of recent politics and how it was affecting the ability of the Senate to actually find solutions to the country’s problems. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is a friend of Coons, asked to speak with him before a vote.

Coons has recounted in the press that Flake expressed his concerns about the hearing and what it was doing to the country. At that time Flake was a “yes” vote on moving Kavanaugh’s confirmation out of committee and on to a full Senate floor vote. However, he was worried the proceedings were tearing the nation apart. He needed to know what it would take for the opposing party to say the process was fairer. He wanted to limit the damage the confirmation was wreaking in homes across America.

That damage, by the way, is real. It’s driving a wedge between some of my family members, and I know that ours isn’t the only family going through this.

Flake ultimately decided to vote to move the confirmation out of committee, but he said that he wouldn’t feel comfortable voting yes in the floor vote until the FBI had a week to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh.

It was a gesture, a nod to truth and fairness over tribalism. It was an attempt to heal the wounds opened by the confirmation hearings. Kavanaugh was going to be confirmed, but if people felt the process was fair and that an attempt to discover any possible truth about the allegations had been made, then faith in our institutions of government might be maintained.

Flake has said that if he were running for re-election, there is no chance that he could have made that gesture. He said there’s “no currency” and “no incentive” to reach across the aisle anymore.

Think about that for a moment. If our elected officials can’t work with their opponents to find solutions to difficult problems and still maintain the support of their constituents, then the problem isn’t our politicians. The problem is us. The party tribalism we see in Washington, D.C., is a mirror of our own tribalism.

Flake’s gesture ultimately didn’t carry much weight. Democrats said the FBI’s investigation wasn’t broad enough, and Republicans said that the Democrats wouldn’t have been satisfied with any investigation that failed to confirm the allegations against Kavanaugh.

I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see politicians making efforts at compromise in the near future.

We all like to complain that Congress is broken and that the swamp in D.C. needs to be drained. The truth, however, is that we’re all splashing around in the same swamp.

We need to find higher ground.