MACKINAC ISLAND — After witnessing the last year in politics, full of insulting tweets, lack of compromise and frequent protests in the streets, the Detroit Regional Chamber decided one of the themes of this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference would be restoring civility to American politics.
In opening remarks at the conference, Gov. Rick Snyder called the lack of civility in politics, “the largest threat to our country.”
“Our greatest threat is not from someone external, it’s from us not treating one another right,” he added.
And in the 24/7 world of cable news, with politicians and pundits on both sides of issues constantly beating each other up verbally and a president who takes to Twitter to insult just about anyone he disagrees with, the political atmosphere has become toxic and is spreading, several panelists said during the conference on Mackinac Island this past week.
Republican political strategist Ana Navarro pointed to three events in the past two weeks — a Republican congressional candidate in Montana beating up a reporter and still getting elected, a white supremacist insulting two women in Portland, Ore., because they looked different from him and stabbing to death two men who tried to intervene and comedian Kathy Griffin posting a picture of herself holding a bloody severed head that resembled President Donald Trump — as examples of the disturbing trend that started in the 2016 presidential election cycle.
“To me all three things are absolutely horrible and worry me tremendously about where we are as America,” she said. “They are a symbol of the hate and anger and passion gone awry, of the partisanship that we have right now.”
For Julie Winokur, a documentary filmmaker and a liberal at heart, the moment of truth came when her son told her she was the most politically intolerant person he knew.
“I was upset with partisanship and paralysis in Washington, the extreme brinkmanship that was taking place. People were putting party before country. And this whole political machine had become something other than public service,” she said in a keynote speech at the conference. “I was among many people who were pointing fingers saying those people are the problem. Those people are stopping anything from getting anything done.”
Winokur said her son’s observation about her political leanings caused her to embark on a project of “radical civility,” traveling the country and listening to people of different political persuasions. Too often, she said, people believe listening is merely waiting for someone else to stop talking.
“I might not be the person who gets to influence Congress, but I can certainly influence my community, my family, my workplace,” she said. “If I can be that less-partisan person within my community, then I’m the beginning of that change.”
Throughout the conference, though, small signs of a break in that cycle of partisanship peeked through.
- Gov. Rick Snyder and half a dozen members of Michigan’s congressional delegation — both Republican and Democrat — came together to talk about the need for improvement and expansions of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie and a united front in Congress to fight Trump’s budget that wipes out money for Great Lakes restoration.
- Political leadership in state and federal government heralded a partnership between the Michigan Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, TARDEC, over the next phase of autonomous vehicle testing in the military.
- Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Midland Republican, and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, the 2010 Democratic candidate for attorney general who lost to Schuette, held a joint news conference on the island to discuss the need for solutions to the opioid abuse crisis savaging Michigan and the nation.
- Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called Snyder a “great partner” in helping push policies that have brought more big and small businesses to the city.
But just about everyone at the conference also acknowledged there is still much work to be done.
U.S. Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham, said he’s been surprised at how dysfunctional Washington, D.C., is.
“We’re about as partisan you can be,” he said. “Democrats are committed to blocking everything that President Trump wants to do, in part because they believe Republicans did the same thing to President (Barack) Obama for six years. And Trump hasn’t figured out Washington enough to gain the political capital he needs to get things done. It’s a partisan gridlock.”
Attorney Mark Bernstein, an Ann Arbor Democrat and member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents who is seriously considering a run for governor in 2018, said one of the things giving him pause is the current political climate as he contemplates what is sure to be a contentious statewide race.
“It’s like people are asking you to run into a burning house,” he said. “And not only you, but your wife, your three kids, your business, the university,” he said. “The toxicity of the political arena is an argument against running, but it’s also one in favor, because people still need to engage in the process.”
And Snyder told the Mackinac crowd that their interactions on the island could act as a role model for both business and politics.
“We don’t have to act badly,” he said. “It’s about saying what is the problem and what are the commonsense solutions and then working together to get it done. That’s the message in Michigan we should be taking out to the rest of the country. Let’s be the poster child for making sure we’re staying on track and we don’t go down a path that has no upside.”
Credit to Detroit Free Dress