If geese can do it….

Dear President Trump,

Lately there’s been an especially large number of geese parading around the reservoir across the street; typically a hundred and fifty or so at a time, sometimes fairly evenly divided into two clumps and sometimes traveling in one huge scrum. Today, though, a whole bunch of them were in the water at the Northwest corner and they were doing something quite cute – they were lining up at the bottom of the equipment ramp that’s built into the reservoir wall waiting their turns to waddle up out of the water to the bank above. Obviously they could have just flown up and out of the water individually, but for some reason they wanted to use the ramp. At one point there was around 10 of them ambling their way up single file. We’ve lived across the street from this reservoir for over 20 years and geese have been in residence there the entire time except for the handful of no-water years, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen them do the ramp trick.

I watched the geese waiting their turns for the ramp late morning shortly before reading the WP article by Paul Kane entitled “A Bipartisan Committee Has Ideas To Make Congress More Bipartisan — And Lawmakers Are Listening.” Maybe seeing the geese handle the turn-taking so nicely primed me to open the Kane piece or maybe I’m just so in need of positives that I’m making a deal out of the geese and inventing parallels out of whole cloth. Whatever is driving it, Kane portrayed a heartwarming camaraderie between the two committee leads (Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.)) and this provided a nice little mood boost.

Kane also included a link to the Committee’s webpage and there’s some pretty great stuff there (https://modernizecongress.house.gov/). I skimmed most of it and here’s some of what I learned: The Committee was formed last January and is comprised of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans (including the two leads). It looks like there was some effort to be mindful of demographics; there are 4 women (3 of whom are Democrats), though only one person of color (again a Democrat). The Republicans unfortunately don’t have much to offer in the diversity department having only 13 women and 12 people of color. The Democrats’ bench is much deeper with 88 women and 104 people of color (obviously there’s overlap as some are both women and people of color). But still, this particular Committee seems to have tried for some balance.

Kane was focused particularly on the 9/26/19 Committee hearing on “Promoting Civility and Building a More Collaborative Congress.” The testimony I found most useful was by Dr. Jennifer Victor of George Mason University about the political science literature on partisan polarization, what appears to be driving it, and recommendations for addressing it. She explained that partisan polarization took off in the mid-1970’s and that “the data clearly show more political extremism among Congressional Republicans than Congressional Democrats,” meaning that Republicans have become more conservative over time than Democrats have become liberal. She took pains to point out that she is a non-partisan academic and is merely reporting trends.

The recommendations she made were echoed by the other experts and revolve around creating more opportunities (some required, some not) for Republican and Democratic members and their staffs to have various types of contact with each other to build familiarity and trust. My favorite of Victor’s suggestions is changing the seating chart so that the parties aren’t sitting in blocks. Someone else advocated that members go in R/D pairs to one another’s districts for two to three days. Overarching all this is the idea that bipartisanship and willingness to negotiate need to be brought back from the brink and that blind party loyalty needs to take a hike.

Hopefully 2020 will bring some breakthroughs along these lines so that members of Congress are neither in thrall to you nor in thrall to their opposition to you, and that maybe, just maybe they can behave civilly and collaboratively with one another like the geese across the way.

May we be safe to negotiate as needed.
May we be happy to cooperate.
May we see that our health and well-being are bolstered by civility and collaboration.
May we embrace respectful, non-violent means for working out our shit.

Tracy Simpson

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