Photo by George Lauby
On my desk sits a pile of letters approaching one foot high. I have to be honest. I am behind, because every letter you send to me, I review.Lately, my mail volume has tripled in size due to the present philosophical divides, the breakneck pace of Executive Branch action, and your important questions about what Congress is doing in key policy areas, such as healthcare and immigration.
That is okay. I have no complaint. It is my duty, my responsibility to you, to hear you. It is also my duty to make judgments on your behalf. I have an obligation to read, study, and analyze the facts of any situation, to listen to the people who are affected, and, ultimately, to make a decision. I am grateful that you are willing to engage with me in the essential work of representative government.
Earlier, I wrote about what is informally called “the deep state.”
The irony of this moment is that with the accelerated use of Presidential power — and the deep state’s attempt to check it — there has come a renewed and refreshing attentiveness to the Legislative Branch. There is now an impassioned and healthy engagement with the centers of government about the very nature of their power.
I believe most Americans have an instinctive desire to see a properly functioning government. Restoring an equitable balance of power between our three co-equal branches of government — the Legislative Branch (which makes laws), the Judicial Branch (which interprets laws), and the Executive Branch (which enforces laws) — ensures, through checks and balances, no undue concentration. Power is also subject to elections, which, while messy, ensure a connection to the source of power, the people. As Americans, we believe that power is justly derived from the dignity and rights of each person, and, when properly exercised, rightfully informs the state.
Vigorous interaction is beneficial to our republic when it is cordial and constructive, and when all parties participate in an authentic attempt to reach workable consensus. It is harmful to our republic when interactions descend into shouting matches, rude interruptions, orchestrated ambushes, or worse, violence towards people and property.
I have a new friend who is an ambassador from a small African country. A fascinating nation that is rebuilding after a difficult civil war. He was kind enough to have me over for dinner. I came with another colleague, a brand new member of Congress from a different party. On the ride over, my colleague talked about the very real prospect that if we could just have a conversation, if we just had the time or disposition to have a conversation — a genuine dialogue — things might get better in Washington.
Most of us crave dialogue. Our country needs dialogue more than ever. We have multiple new technological ways to conduct dialogue. However, we have lost touch with what genuine dialogue is. If we are racing to score points, or impatiently, loudly bludgeoning one another with our point-of-view, we are not engaging in dialogue, we are engaging in monologue.
Clearly, there are many differences that cannot easily be solved. We have to be sober about that. The tough arena of politics occupies a unique space in the quest for answers, but holding it together depends upon a commitment to the civic state, a broad attempt at friendship and goodwill. Now I need to get back to reading those letters.
Jeff Fortenberry represents much of eastern Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives.