After the midterms — where to from here?

The midterms are over, leaving party faithful from both sides crowing and crying over their respective wins and losses.

Democrats flipped the House, yielding historic gains for women, Muslim and LGBT candidates. Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate, proving 2016 wasn’t just a fluke, and a significant portion of America is drawn to our president and his style of governing.

It did not take long for both sides to start touting their spoils, and to resume pushing our two-party system further to the extremes. Wednesday morning – with some races still to be decided — the president was promising a warlike posture against Democrats, while liberals of all stripes flooded social media with calls for blood in January.

For just a moment, I’d like to address all my liberal friends screaming for revenge by legislative obstruction. I have to ask: To what end? Where do we hope that will take us?

Don’t get me wrong. We need accountability. There are lingering questions about the 2016 election and Russian meddling (both 2016 and ongoing) that need to be answered. And, the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the constitutionally questionable appointment of an acting attorney general who has been openly hostile to the Mueller investigation is troubling.

Forcing accountability and protecting the Mueller investigation to its completion is a matter that will take bicameral support from both parties. Democrats can’t do it alone. They don’t have the numbers. To hold the executive accountable, the new Democratic majority in the House will have to work with moderate Republicans who still value the Constitution and the rule of law above their own party.

Those Republicans exist. But, if they’re going to buck their own party for the good of the country, they’re going to need Democrats in Congress who offer something more substantive than just opposition to the president for opposition’s sake.

And that really is the conundrum for House Democrats. They’ve been handed power by an electorate increasingly displeased with the president.

By and large, they won by being the party of not-Trump. But that will only carry them so far. Like the president’s fear-mongering leading up to Nov. 6, blind opposition without any affirmative policy platform is a tactic that — while effective leading into an election — has a post-election shelf life comparable to unrefrigerated fish. And it’s starting to stink.

If Democrats are to have any hope in 2020 — and yes, that race is underway — they’re going to have to offer something more than being not-Trump. They’re going to have to legislate. They’re going to have to compromise. They’re going to have to work with the president — as much as he will allow. They’re going to have to hold their noses and get down to the dirty work of sausage-making.

And yes, they must fight for accountability of the executive — motivated by the Constitution and the greater good, not some petty thirst for vengeance.

Some will argue Democrats need to go for the jugular and stymie the president at every turn to motivate the base for 2020. But, let’s face it: Donald Trump is going to motivate the extremes of both parties all on his own. The next presidential election will be a race to attract moderates, who will have had four years to learn everything they need to know about Trump, and who will take a dim view of Democrats if they’ve offered nothing more than two years of blind obstruction.

Democrats can complain all they want about how Republicans did their best to obstruct Obama. They can live in that past. And it might feel good to throw up walls of revenge. But, living in that past will yield a very unpleasant present in 2020, and more importantly, it will do nothing to advance the collective good of this nation.

Republicans, likewise, have nothing but ground to lose if they offer nothing more than fear. The president has been masterful at beating that war drum, but the House results Tuesday reflect America’s growing disdain for the politics of fear — or, at least I can hope for as much.

We could hope that our leaders suddenly develop a sense of selfless patriotism that would lead them to place the collective good above party and self-interest. But, it’s unlikely they’ll do so as long as they sense we — the collective mass of individuals who make up this messy human soup called America — remain at each other’s throats.

We have slightly less than two years before we go back to the polls. Until then, perhaps the best thing we can do is lead our leaders by exemplifying the behavior we so desperately need from them. We can see each other as human beings. We can do our best to understand each other’s points of view. We can look for common ground and sensible compromise that doesn’t infringe on essential rights and constitutional principles. We can demand they do the same.

And, if they don’t — if they offer us nothing more than fear and partisan bickering — well, then we vote. And we pray. And we keep working for an America united by something greater than ourselves and our petty partisan differences.

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