'Forgive and Forget' Has Turned to Just 'Forget'

Charlie "Chuck" Cook
December 18, 2020

While Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all we’ve been given, to me the time around Christmas and Hanukkah should be a time to forgive transgressions against us over the year, to turn the corner and move on.

But some have been doing more forgetting than forgiving. For instance, forgetting that in our system, we have elections that grant citizens the right to decide who their leaders will be. Whether we like the electorate’s decision or not, we accept it, perhaps with an eye toward prevailing in the next election two or four years later. That is the way it is supposed to be.

What we are seeing today is yet another manifestation of a society in which there are only two possible outcomes to any kind of contest, from politics to athletics: “I either win, or I have been cheated.” Personally, I think it comes from every kid getting a trophy on field day or at the science fair. We no longer prepare people to be good losers.

It is flabbergasting that 126 Republican House members signed the amicus brief supporting a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 16 other GOP state attorneys general to overturn the results of the elections in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. By my count, that means that any of those 126 who hail from those four states should also have their reelections declared null and void.

As best as I can tell, the primary reason for their attempt to invalidate the election results is simply that their side did not win. President Trump telegraphed that much before the election when he predicted it would be rigged, just as he had in 2016. Only after his surprising victory did it suddenly become a fair election.

This forgetfulness isn’t limited to Republicans and other Trump supporters. Many progressives seem to have forgotten that Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren ran for the Democratic presidential nomination this year and lost, with the party opting to take a more centrist, incremental posture rather than the fundamental and systemic change that the New England senators sought. But now they are clamoring for a Cabinet composed of the same people that Sanders or Warren would have picked, forgetting that the party pretty explicitly decided not to go that direction.

This has been a very long four years, with a president saying and doing things that I never thought I would hear or see a president of either party say or do. I can remember back to the days during President Clinton’s Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, when a lot of Republicans and conservatives argued that “character counts.” They had a point: Having young children at home during the time of Monica meant keeping the TV remote close at hand to hit the mute button in case a story on the evening news veered toward talk of blue dresses and the like. But back to the subject at hand, it would seem that character now only counts if it is the other side’s character that is being judged.

The degree of partisanship that we have reached is startling. During Clinton’s eight years in the White House, Republicans held him in utter contempt. Then during George W. Bush’s eight years in office, it was Democrats’ turn to spread the bile. But it went to an even higher level from Republicans toward Barack Obama in his eight years, only to be eclipsed again by Democrats during the Trump years. A few weeks ago, this column addressed the issue of partisanship, citing a poll from PRRI that showed 81 percent of Republicans believe that the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists while 78 percent of Democrats feel the GOP has been taken over by racists.

That same column promoted a theory that I have, namely that while the country is rife with partisanship, as ugly as it has been since the Civil War and Reconstruction, that we might get, at least inside the Beltway, a brief respite from it. I recently spoke with a friend who has been involved in national politics at the highest levels. He said we need a period of healing, and hopes that President-elect Joe Biden will emphasize that theme. That means reaching a place where people with different points of view can civilly talk and reach a compromise that moves the ball forward. Democracy is built around consensus and compromise—figure out what you can agree on and split the difference on the rest.

There are so many challenging problems that this country that one might think would trigger a rise above partisanship, like dealing with the coronavirus for example. How do we look ourselves in the mirror knowing that one of the wealthiest countries, with the best hospitals in the world, has just 5 percent of the population but 19 percent of the deaths from the pandemic?

Seconds before I was about to file this column a new Fox News poll was released, showing that 35 percent of Americans thought that a $900 billion relief package was “too little”, another 33 percent said “just about right,” and 19 percent said it was "too much.” This shouldn’t be that hard.

This article was originally published for the National Journal on December 15, 2020.