Open letter to Walden: Seek common ground

Another Voice

Dear Congressman Walden:

I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, born and raised in Africa. After over a decade in Europe, intermingled with studies in the U.S., I immigrated to this country 30 years ago. I have been a researcher and educator for over three decades and am an elected commissioner in a local water district. My wife (originally from South America, also a naturalized citizen) and I vote regularly, conscious of having lived where voting was not free. Our older son serves in the U.S. Army and our younger one is in county management. Our story is that of most immigrants: Pursuing a better life, working hard to achieve a measure of success and happiness for us and our children, and contributing actively to our new country and community.

I have watched with deep concern the recent evolution of the U.S. I am politically independent and thus do not see issues through either blue or red lenses. In the primaries, Republicans nominated arguably the least qualified of 17 candidates; Democrats nominated (but scarred) arguably the most qualified of three. To great surprise, Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton in a general election, where only 58 percent of those eligible voted, and where the Electoral College victory was effectively decided by 107,000 votes in three key states while the popular vote went the other way by 2.9 million votes.

Mr. Trump was not my candidate, as I thought him unqualified in character and knowledge. But I democratically accept the choice of the people as expressed via the Electoral College: He is our president. But I hold presidents responsible to protect the fundamental principles and democratic values of our nation. And I hold my representatives in the House and Senate responsible to provide balance, should the Executive branch fail to properly exercise its duties.

After a year, I consider that Mr. Trump has dramatically failed to discharge his duties as president. By failing to have a fair, dignified, consistent, thoughtful and empathetic posture, he has betrayed the trust the electorate placed on him, has further polarized an already divided nation, and has done irreparable damage to our global leadership. His attacks on the press are attacks on freedoms that anchor our democracy. His attacks on science and on environmental information and regulation will cause irreparable harm to our nation and planet. The tax reform he fostered and signed will drastically increase income inequality, will augment the national debt, and fails to set the right incentives towards a fair, healthy, wealthy and forward-thinking society. His attacks on ACA place the U.S. further away from protecting our citizen’s basic human right to health. His deregulation of banks and financial markets jeopardizes in the long run (whatever the short-term gains might be) the resilience of an economy whose recovery his predecessor had to jump start. His provocations to North Korea and Iran, among others, put the world closer to conflict and perhaps to nuclear war. His racial bias is apparent and disturbing. His obsession with a wall and his insulting language towards entire regions (including the Africa of my birth) and religions are beyond comprehension and distract from the comprehensive immigration reform we need in this country.

I consider that you and the vast majority of your Republican colleagues in Congress have consistently failed your constitutional duty to offer a counter-balance to presidential power. Could Republicans be blinded by the temptation to pass partisan legislation, or to make long-lasting conservative appointments throughout the judicial system? Do Republicans need to be reminded that their first duty is to country and people, not to party or privileged elites?

Congressional Democrats have arguably fared better. This is in part because they are opposition, but some (including members of the Oregon delegation) have stood on courageous principle. They have maintained the discipline of vote necessary (even if not sufficient by itself) to achieve important victories, the most salient being the rejection of the ACA repeal. But way too often they have lacked the procedural tools or on occasion the moral high ground (ACA was passed along partisan lines, after all) to make real difference.

This speaks to another key failure: A two-party system is no longer a viable solution for our country and democracy. Red-or-blue alternation of power is productive and stabilizing when the two parties can find enough common ground to legislate in a bi-partisan, sustainable manner, but it is ineffective and dangerous when the priority of any new majority is seemingly to undo whatever the previous one did.

Can our country recover? Recovery will require peaceful, strategic, patient yet galvanizing action. I don’t have an ideal recipe. But I do know this:

• Because of its complicity with an unfit and disruptive president and because of extremely poor legislative choices and practices as exemplified by the Tax Reform, the Republican party has forfeited my vote for the foreseeable future.

• In 2018 and 2020, I will exercise my freedom of choice by voting (and campaigning if appropriate) for Democrats, independents or third-party candidates — as ethically, strategically and pragmatically best to terminate Republican majorities in Congress and to elect a non-Republican president.

• Without compromising the 2018-2020 goals, I will actively promote a true multi-party system where no party can govern with arrogance and disregard for the best interests of the American people.

If enough Americans share these or better ideas and act on them with committed civility, our country will mend its internal divides and will again become a bright beacon of freedom, resolve and compassion — to the benefit of people in the U.S. and globally.

You too can be a part of the solution, Mr. Walden, by becoming a voice of strong and reasoned opposition to an unfit president and by fostering truly bipartisan legislation. I hope I speak for the majority of the Second District voters: You would not earn my vote, but you would earn my respect.

An answer meaningfully addressing the issues I raise would be valued; however, much we may disagree. By contrast, a form letter would add no value to the type of dialogue this country needs.

Antonio Baptista lives in Mt. Hood.

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