Want to save America from itself?
Two words: Good faith.
This term, derived from the Latin bona fides, refers to the ideal human intention to be fair, open and honest, regardless of any potential future result. As the United States is supposed to be.
Yet, this noble ethos is exactly what’s missing in American life today, and it is breathtakingly and dangerously nonexistent in our politics.
The great divide
Instead, Americans have split roughly into two main camps, conservatives and liberals, which also cleave rather neatly into a stark political divide between Republicans and Democrats, respectively. Both sides battle and scheme 24/7 for sectarian advantage, meaning not for the “common good” except as it is narrowly defined by each side independently.
As we watch the two arch-rival American tribal groups circling each other with deep suspicion, conniving to sabotage the other at every turn, good faith is far beyond the pale of each.
Every current U.S. administration has the opportunity — the solemn responsibility even — to protect the rights and well-being of every American in a transparently fair and honest way, not just those citizens aligned with the momentarily controlling party’s partisan agenda. Indeed, all Americans, regardless of their political postures, will benefit or be harmed collectively by whatever the government does.
Perhaps a true “landslide” election win by a president might validate slightly more focus on the winning side’s political agenda to accommodate the electorate’s manifest will, but improving life for the whole of the body politic should always be the fundamental motivator of any president working to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitutional rights and “pursuit of happiness” of all citizens.
It’s so not where we are. Currently, as Republicans fully control the presidency and both chambers of the U.S. Congress, plus a disproportionate share of state and local offices nationwide, the party is feverishly trying to leverage these advantages to stack the deck even higher against those Americans who may deign to think differently.
On one level, this is blatantly immoral. To force not just unwanted but viscerally loathed policies on tens of millions of non-Republican Americans just because you can, is a purposeful assault on individual peace and tranquility, and against the democratic values — e pluribus unum, out of many [people], one [country] — of the nation as a whole.
In the current context it is even more despicable because President Trump received no such “landslide” mandate, even though his Electoral College victory was wide for technical rather than ideological reasons. In fact, he lost the election’s popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots, which, arguably, is more representative of the public will.
So, if Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans actually were representing the American people in good faith, they would be governing with the appropriate modesty inferred by a large popular-vote defeat. And, in any event, they would be focused far more on improving the lives of constituents than increasing the party’s current political dominance.
That’s what good faith requires. A good-faith government would never separate any immigrant parents, even undocumented ones, from their children as a means of frightening and hopefully discouraging illegal immigration. It’s cruel. Period. Also un-American. A good-faith president would never dismiss the warnings of his national security apparatus about Russia’s existential attacks against the republic just to coddle a Russian dictator and deflect suspicion of unseemly, perhaps illegal, official collusion (perhaps including himself) with an enemy power. Good-faith leaders would never publicly state that “some,” much less any racist white supremacists were “fine people” and that some immigrants to America come from “shithole countries.”
Not only wouldn’t they do it, it wouldn’t even cross their minds. Can you imagine former presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43, and Obama ever saying or doing such things? Me neither. It’s despicable in a country that honors good faith and thoughtful, dignified governance.
Yet, here we are in a swamp of partisan intrigue, the polar opposite of good faith.
A case in point is the upcoming Senate confirmation process to ratify President Trump’s nominee — devout Catholic, arch-conservative Brett Kavanaugh — to replace the retiring and far more moderate justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh is not a good-faith nominee. He is a starkly political choice, whose GOP backers know full well will tilt the court sharply to the right politically for decades hence, because Kavanaugh, 53, is a relatively young man and will serve for years. The remaining four Republicans and four Democrats remaining on the court, routinely vote 4-4 on matters of immense importance to Americans and our quickly transforming culture. Kennedy, a Republican, sometimes served as a “swing” voter, especially on social issues such as gay marriage, and concurred with liberals on the court.
If the court ultimately includes Kavanaugh — the zealous worshipper in a faith that has officially demonized all abortion for long centuries — we can rationally worry about how his considerations may turn regarding Roe v Wade, which constitutionally legalized abortion in 1973. Even as he insists his personal beliefs and feelings won’t affect his judgments on any individual cases.
I’m not convinced, and rationally shouldn’t be. He’s not a Christmas and Easter Catholic; he teaches catechism.
If the president and senators truly wanted to conduct themselves in good faith in conducting essential business of the nation, there is one way they could.
Consider Judge Merrick Garland, as well.
The January 2016 nomination of Garland, President Obama’s final pick for the court with nine months remaining in his presidency, was cynically blocked by the Senate. Garland was never given a hearing, as the by-then GOP-controlled body sought a chance to nominate a conservative after the coming election and deny Obama his right.
It was shameless, uber-partisan bad faith. They blocked the nomination of a moderate jurist with impeccable legal credentials in hopes of stacking the deck for conservatives. Forget about any other Americans.
This is once-in-a-lifetime moment for our government to do the right thing for us all, not just for themselves and their devotees. If Garland were the next justice of the supreme court, he would by all signs provide a perfect swing vote for the court, helping to balance their decisions in service to all Americans and not just a privileged minority.
It won’t happen, though, because good faith has become as rare as personal integrity in American politics, if not throughout American life.
After our president’s shameful, treasonous public display in Helsinki this past weekend, I shudder for the future of our nation.
A few brave souls have condemned Trump’s bad-faith betrayal of America, but the silence from most conservatives throughout the country has been deafening. That’s what bad faith sounds like.
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