Many years ago, I was in Washington, D.C. for a conference and staying in a hotel. In the morning, as I was getting ready for the conference, I turned on the TV to see the morning news and I happened to catch a lecture being given by Newt Gringrich, who was the speaker of the House of Representatives at the time. Newt was lecturing to a group of students on a topic related to American political history.  

As I was getting dressed, I heard Newt say something that shocked me and stopped me in my tracks – I had to stop what I was doing to give Newt my focused attention. Newt said, “The Democratic Party is un-American and it began with the passage of Social Security in 1935,” or words to that effect. 

I have been a life-long Democrat, so I was shocked to hear Newt declare that I am “un-American” and then doubly shocked to hear that Social Security, a program that has provided a lifeline of financial support for hundreds of millions of retired Americans (as well as disabled folks), is “un-American”! Why would he make such an astounding statement?

As he wrapped up his lecture, Newt put forward his belief that such programs represent government over-reach and are not what America is about.

It is a part of American political discourse to have different viewpoints on such issues as how much government should be involved in daily life, and it is clear that Newt and I disagree on this issue. What is disturbing is for Newt to call opposing viewpoints “un-American” as though his views or Republican views are the only ones that can be considered “American.”

When I was working at Little Tokyo Service Center, a longtime and respected co-worker was a staunch Republican, but there were never any negative feelings or animosity about our political party differences. We could be Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, Libertarians, or whatever, but there was the underlying acceptance that we were all loyal Americans and our patriotism was never questioned. But I believe Newt and his converts have worked to undermine this fundamental value of American democratic structure – perhaps partly the reason he got the nickname of “Newt the Nuke.”

Newt Gingrich

There was a time when Democrats and Republicans could “talk across the aisle” and seek to work on programs to help the American people, which would require some form of compromise on both parts. This was when politics was considered the “art of compromise” and the goal of Congress was to try to get things done to help America.

But Newt and his Republican cohorts dug in and could not compromise with “un-American” proposals that came from the Democrats. They declared that no Republican should seek compromise – or they would risk being thrown out of office if they even tried.   

Now there are Republicans who believe that Democrats are not only “un-American,” they believe Democrats are criminals who “stole the election from Trump” or even believe Dems are engaged in a worldwide network of child-trafficking cannibals (I am not making this up)! Partisan politics has become so negative that many Republicans are intensely hostile to Nancy Pelosi and at the same time, many Democrats are repulsed by just the sight of Mitch McConnell – and partisan politics has become more important than working for the common good of this nation.

The political pendulum is always swinging back and forth – will there come a time once again when civility, honesty, compromise and focusing on the common good can be the foundations of our government? I hope so because as Abraham Lincoln stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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