The Struggle for the Soul of America: Will Illusive Bipartisanship Cripple Our Democracy?

I feel like I’m living in two different worlds. Personally, I’ve gotten vaccinated, as have practically all my friends. The other night a group of us got together for dinner and reconnecting. Until then, we had been zooming with one another for over a year.

Last month my partner and I went to a public hot springs. Two weeks ago, we went out to dinner in a restaurant courtyard with another couple. Without masks! And yesterday, though masked, we were in a furniture store shopping for a new couch. After fifteen months of hibernation, our lives are finally getting back to almost normal. I’m feeling hopeful, optimistic.

At the same time, there’s a dark shadow hanging over our country. And it’s alarming. Not since the Civil War has our nation been so divided.[1] Whether the issue is forming a commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol,[2] protecting our right to vote,[3] or dealing with immigrants at our Mexican border,[4] Americans are at extreme odds with one another.

Some argue that the Democrats must forge ahead and pass legislation to resolve our pressing problems despite the opposition. Others, like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) and Kristen Sinema (D-Ariz.), contend that we must work in a bipartisan manner to truly solve these issues. But can we really bridge the huge schism in our nation or between the political parties? And, more immediately, do we have the time to reconcile our differences before our democracy is overrun by far-right extremists?

Events since last November’s election clearly indicate that we will not overcome the great divide in our nation any time soon. The Senate’s partisan failure to approve a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on our Capitol is just the latest evidence of that. With Sen. Mitch McConnell admitting he is hellbent on obstructing the Biden presidency,[5] (just as he was with the Obama administration), it’s hard to imagine any real progress toward solving the nation’s problems in a bipartisan fashion.

The truth is our deepest divisions are political, rather than based in policy issues. A great majority of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – support rebuilding our infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, providing affordable healthcare for all and more.

Biden’s best path forward may be to promote bipartisanship for a little while longer, if for no other reason than to demonstrate its futility. Manchin and Sinema apparently need more time to realize that the Republicans will never work with the Democrats on a true economic and social recovery, especially one that helps most Americans. They believe it’s not in their political interest. Just like their opposition to the bipartisan commission, Republicans are very willing to put politics above country.

The Senate Republicans’ filibuster of the bipartisan commission hopefully has helped Manchin and Sinema to see the light. Biden did learn how obstructionist the Republicans can be as VP under Obama with the Garland nomination to the Supreme Court and Obamacare, etc. So, he’s not going to be strung along forever.

Before the August recess, Biden will go for what he believes needs to be done regarding infrastructure, etc. that he can do through Reconciliation. By then, hopefully, Manchin and Sinema will understand bipartisanship is impossible with McConnell and his cohorts. Regarding voting rights and other bills that can’t be passed by Reconciliation, it will depend on these two Democrats agreeing to break the filibuster. At that point, they must understand that their continued support of the filibuster may well be a death knell for democracy. Millions of Americans’ right to vote will be in serious jeopardy due to a flood of Republican measures to suppress the vote.

Meanwhile, it’s up to all of us to keep the pressure on Biden, Manchin, Sinema and the rest of the Democrats to do what’s right and pass HR 1/S1, the For the People Act, and the John Lewis voting rights bill. Once again, our democracy is being put to the test and it’s on us to save it.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (now RepresentUs New Mexico), a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/19/politics/trump-divided-america-civil-war/index.html

[2] https://thehill.com/homenews/house/555147-poll-americans-split-on-jan-6-commission

[3] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-oppose-many-voting-restrictions-but-not-voter-id-laws/

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/05/03/most-americans-are-critical-of-governments-handling-of-situation-at-u-s-mexico-border/

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/joe-biden/mcconnell-says-he-s-100-percent-focused-stopping-biden-s-n1266443

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