BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
On Tuesday, the United States of America celebrated its independence, marking the first Fourth of July during the presidency of Donald Trump. To celebrate the holiday, the Queens Tribune invited a Democrat—Councilman Daniel Dromm—and a Republican—James McClelland, an operative who has worked on campaigns in Queens and Brooklyn—to discuss civility and how the two parties can find common ground during an era marked by a lack of compromise and hyper-partisanship.
“I think it’s important that we work together,” said Dromm. “You can’t deny people’s feelings. You can disagree with their policies. If you can get beyond name-calling and understand them as human beings, people can work together. Elected officials, I think, today are somewhat afraid to compromise—but that’s what our country is built on, the great compromise.”
McClelland agreed, saying that while he and the councilman might disagree on the specifics of implementing policy, “there’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole.”
Dromm said that he attends and speaks at Queens Republican Club meetings every year, despite the fact that he won’t likely find votes there.
“It’s not always about votes,” he said. “It’s about working with constituents—and all constituents have a right to know where people stand on issues. I try to find a way to work with them. If you’re always fighting, you can’t serve the community.”
McClelland and Dromm agreed that social media is a key component of the current divide that exists between Democrats and Republicans.
“Social media fuels it,” said McClelland. “It has created a firestorm and it’s hard to have an honest debate when you’re barraged with all the information out there. People say nasty things online because they don’t have to face people in person.”
Dromm said that the United States is in a period when we doubt people’s motives—and he blames President Donald Trump, who has publicly lambasted everyone from federal judges and members of the intelligence community to fellow politicians and the media.
“The level of discourse is something we haven’t seen before,” he said. “Some of the things that came out in the campaign were really horrible.”
Dromm referenced Trump’s tweet last Thursday that targeted Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“The level of discourse and the words that are being used is what’s so damaging now,” said Dromm. “Words do count. Words can hurt and words—whether printed or on social media—are irretractable.”
McClelland said that U.S. residents need to better practice “personal responsibility” and that while it’s acceptable to disagree with someone, there’s no need for name-calling.
“The level of respect in this country has dwindled,” he said. “People want to see the salacious stories.”
Having majored in journalism in college, Dromm said that newspapers should set standards to ensure trust from readers.
“There has to be integrity in everything,” said McClelland. “When there’s instant information, it’s sometimes hard to vet. I think our technology has surpassed our maturity or our ability to use it responsibly.”
Dromm and McClelland suggested that Republicans and Democrats—elected officials as well as voters—sit down and get to know each other on a personal level, so that they can better understand the opposing party’s point of view.
“We’ve gotten away from one-on-one discussions with people,” said Dromm. “It’s hard to go after people when you know them personally. Social media is easy because you can do it from a distance and face no consequences. You don’t build a community when you do everything online. We need more community meetings.”
McClelland said he believes that there should be a code of conduct for politicians that would emphasize “professionalism.”
Although McClelland and Dromm agreed that immigration is an area where Democrats and Republicans should be able to compromise, they had opposing views on the concept of sanctuary cities and Trump’s immigration policies.
“As far as I’m concerned, sanctuary cities make it difficult because it shuts the door for conversation at the table,” said McClelland. “I may have opposing views from the councilman, but I think there has to come a time where we come together and figure out what’s the best thing for New York City because what’s workable in New York City is not the same as other cities.”
Dromm said that he thought Trump’s agenda is wrong for the country.
“I don’t necessarily attack people for holding an opposing opinion,” Dromm said. “I try to educate people on why I feel what I feel. I think [immigration] is an issue of rights.”
McClelland said that Republicans are often seen as an “old, rich, white-guy party,” but he wants New York’s GOP to adopt an “urban agenda” that would be “socially conscious.”
“The Republicans’ urban agenda is similar to the Democrats’ urban agenda,” said Dromm. “People in other parts of the country don’t understand diversity, whereas [New Yorkers] do.”
McClelland said that both parties needed to tame their “fringes.”
“We need to get more moderates,” he said. “I think these groups delegitimize themselves; the fringe fizzles out. They get fatigued and don’t change anything.”
With partisanship at an all-time high, both Dromm and McClelland said that they were concerned about the future of the nation.
“The democracy is at stake,” said Dromm. “We need to get back to the idea that compromise is okay.”
McClelland, on the other hand, suggested that the two-party system might not hold.
“It could get to the point where the political paradigm changes,” McClelland said. “Maybe the party system is not working and people will look at candidates on issues, not party. Maybe we need a third party.”
Both Dromm and McClelland suggested that Americans educate themselves about the nation’s political system by getting involved with the process.
“People should get involved in local political clubs and volunteer for campaigns,” said McClelland. “It’s arduous and a tedious process. Also, don’t believe everything you read. Listen to the other side and see what their reasoning is.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org