It’s candidate filing season and the roster of potential elected officials is growing daily. Soon we will decide who we trust to fill these important positions. In doing so we must look for candidates who are civil and competent. Without both capabilities, government functions poorly, if at all.
How can we identify which candidates have these qualities? The best way is certainly through careful inspection of their policy proposals and their interactions with others, but that information is not always easy to come by.
It’s much easier, however, to identify those who lack the civility and competency to be an effective public servant. Voters can simply watch for candidates who focus on what I call the “politics of grievance”: the tendency to frame every issue as an attack or personal wrong perpetrated by political opponents or a feared “them” with bad motives. The politics of grievance demonizes opposition and draws hard lines in the sand dividing those who are “with us or against us.”
This mindset is tempting. It allows us to avoid wrestling with the inevitability of change and provides us with someone or something to blame when things go poorly. Rather than dealing with the complex challenges we face, it allows us to avoid them through oversimplification. It appeals to our emotions, rather than seriously addressing the substance of the important questions of the day. Despite its appeal, it is a lazy mindset.
This is not to say that some of the changes we are wrestling with are not changes for the worse, or that we should simply accept everything that comes our way. But merely claiming victimhood and assigning blame does nothing to improve our lot. The response, instead, should be to evaluate and understand the issue — including its root causes — and figure out what to do to address it.
That is where the politics of grievance — attacking opponents to bring them down, rather than addressing the actual issue — falls short. It is personal, emotive, and ultimately, ineffective.
Unfortunately, this tendency is evident in both parties. Even though we have friends, coworkers, and neighbors who likely span the political spectrum, this school of thought teaches us to paint with broad strokes and question the motives of anyone on the other side of the political aisle. Republicans demonize Democrats and Democrats demonize Republicans, each with their list of personal grievances.
Rather than focus on the perceived wrongs we have suffered, we must get back to the politics of the not-too-distant past where, despite significant differences of opinion and perspective, we were still focused on finding solutions.
As we listen to candidates this election season, we should be on the lookout for language that focuses only on the ills of, and damage done by, the other side. Any candidate that talks about the harms we are suffering, without explaining how they propose to make things better, is likely to fail the “competency and civility” test.
As a Republican, I can speak most clearly to my party: We need to refocus on what really matters. We need to recenter ourselves on the values that made me a Republican in the first place. Republicans need to focus on why we are the party with the values that lead to better government. We can focus on why the free market is a better decision maker than government on most issues. A conservative candidate can, for example, propose any number of ways in which they intend to address very real problems by minimizing government interference. Or, as is too often the fashion of late, they can gripe about progressives trying to take away our freedoms. In both cases, the candidate is advocating for smaller government. But only with the former approach does the candidate show themselves to be a serious, solution-oriented leader.
Republicans can focus on lowering the tax burden, reducing and simplifying regulatory burdens, and creating a government environment that encourages — rather than discourages — innovation, growth, and productivity. Republicans should not focus on all the ways the world has harmed them. Whining without solutions is a bad look and reveals a lack of thought when it comes to the modern world.
People have felt aggrieved by change for as long as humans have existed. The difference between those who thrived and those who did not was how they dealt with it. As Wyoming considers how we will respond to changing times, we must look at those who seek to lead us and ask whether they have what it takes to find real solutions or whether they are just there to complain about the ways the world has wronged them. Only one will lead us to a prosperous future.