Few people have experienced history firsthand like Sen. Doug Jones. As a former U.S. Senator (D-AL), U.S. Attorney in the Clinton Administration, and the prosecuting attorney against the Klansmen responsible for bombing a Birmingham church in 1963 that killed four girls, Sen. Jones carries priceless insights only obtained by living and leading through these pivotal moments.
Today, Sen. Jones continues to share his valuable wisdom as a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Policy. He’s also a regular political contributor at CNN and the author of Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights.
I recently sat down with Sen. Jones to discuss his views on the current state of politics, especially when it comes to the fractured state of the U.S. congress. A vocal advocate for achieving compromise amongst divisions, Sen. Jones explains why the political rift in Congress appears more significant than ever and how we can unite for a stronger future together.
Why Is the U.S. Congress So Divided?
Sen. Jones won’t deny the existence of the frustrating stalemates we hear about in the U.S. Congress. What he does challenge is the idea that bipartisanship doesn’t exist at all in Washington. “Honestly, I think there is a lot more bipartisanship and finding common ground that goes on behind the scenes than people see,” says Sen. Jones.
Unfortunately, the general public rarely glimpses bipartisan moments. According to Sen. Jones, there are countless reasons why we see more moments of conflict than cohesion. However, he places the majority of the blame on two main culprits—the media and politicians choosing quick political points over the greater good.
What The Media Hides
Now more than ever, Sen. Jones sees the media neglect to shine a spotlight on the frequent moments of cooperation in Congress. “Washington D.C. might be the most bipartisan city in the country,” Sen. Jones says. “But because the people don’t see it, they’ve become polarized.”
Since the media highlights the contentious moments in politics vs. interactions where Congress members do work together, the public is led to believe that there is no collaboration in Washington. Politicians feed off of this mentality and can eventually cave into the polarization themselves.
Sen. Jones reflects on times past when both sides of the House and Senate did regularly engage in reasonable discourse and debate. Today, in contrast, it’s about making the latest headlines—not gathering facts and responsibly making the right decisions for your electorate.
“We live in a world of insta-certain,” Sen. Jones says, a term he first heard from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “You make an immediate judgment and then go into your corner rather than letting the facts play out.” He’s seen it with race relations, mass shootings, police reform, and nearly every other major political issue.
Once the truth does emerge, politicians hope the facts back up their stance. If not, they’ll search for ways to spin it. “The more that Democrats and Republicans discuss issues from the same set of facts,” he continues, “then the media will have to cover it the same way.”
Can Politicians Face the Facts?
From Twitter to YouTube to the 24-hour news cycle, we’re bombarded by headlines whether we like it or not. Sen. Jones has seen how this affects not just the media but how politicians do their jobs.
People now have megaphones at their fingertips, and party leaders want their base’s loudest voices shouting their name from the digital stage. This has led to more politicians focusing on appeasing those voices, even if that means ignoring the facts, refusing compromise, or voting against the greater good.
“It’s about political survival rather than what will move the country forward,” says Sen. Jones. “That’s the biggest issue. They’re just trying to score points with their base to further their career or hold onto office. That’s opposed to trying to educate their base.”
As public leaders, he believes it’s the responsibility of Congress members to support those facts no matter the outcome.
“It’s up to public servants on both sides to stand up and speak the truth,” says Sen. Jones. “It’s like a mythical creature when that happens. That should be the norm, not the exception.” With renewed integrity and genuine care for their country and constituents, our political leaders can put conflict aside and work towards a greater tomorrow for everyone.
“Even when coming at each other with different views, they can look for common ground. We can get back to the regular order of the Senate business where leadership comes together with common goals.”
The conversation with Sen. Doug Jones continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. We talk about race relations in the U.S., what Congress is like behind the scenes, which former and current politicians he most admires, and so much more! Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.
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