When Personality Trumps Good Governance

The annual State of the Union address was a spectacle this year. Cameras panned to an obviously split House chamber after each sentence from President Trump. One side applauded enthusiastically while the other side sat stone-faced. Besides its theatrics, this year’s State of the Union address brought forward an important question: Can we look past disdain for a politician’s character in order to work with them to enact policy?

Trump’s dismal approval ratings, especially among the vocal progressive wing of the Democratic party, have intensified an unrelenting resistance to everything he advocates. This attitude was most noticeable when the president briefed the nation on the state of the economy. With the gross domestic product (GDP) having grown by 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, unemployment at a low 4.1 percent, and inflation near its 2 percent target, the economy is strong. President Trump, however, can only take credit for one year of economic growth. In addition, he inherited an economy already in solid growth. Without regard to political allegiance, these strong economic numbers are impressive and should be applauded. The fact that such a controversial president sits in the Oval Office does not change the fact that African-American unemployment is at an all-time low and Hispanic unemployment is close to that. While Congress does not have to meet Trump with applause, we ought to celebrate these developments. Right after this line in his address, cameras panned to the Congressional Black Caucus showing no outward signs of approval.

While displeasure with President Trump is one thing, some types of resistance have been more disruptive and obstructionist. Take, for example, the attempt by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) to begin impeachment proceedings against him. That is an overreaction to his unpopular policies and serves only as a publicity stunt for appeasing a staunch liberal base. Attempting to impeach the president does nothing to further Congress’s mandate to legislate, yet 58 House Democrats joined Rep. Green in promoting this.

It is vital to the functioning of our democracy that our elected officials are able to separate personal animosity from public duty. Democrats, both elected officials and voters, should focus on policy instead of President Trump’s personal antics. Most importantly, moderate Democrats should work to moderate the progressive resistance to him at every turn.

Already, progressive groups are monitoring potential 2020 Democratic contenders for president such as senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to ensure unflinching loyalty to the cause of anti-Trump resistance. This is not the way forward. Voters should reward candidates with clearly presented policy positions who are willing to work across the aisle. Devotion to a policy outcome, and a willingness to negotiate, should take precedence over consistently toeing party lines.