Greg Bell

There seems to be almost unanimous disappointment with how Washington, D.C., is functioning these days.

Republicans, Democrats and independents alike are sick of the lack of cooperation and the perpetual stalemate we see being played out there. Year after year no budget gets passed. The government operates on temporary spending resolutions. No agency can really plan or start a new initiative because of this ongoing standoff.

Everyone, including President Obama, acknowledges that the Affordable Care Act needs to be amended. But Republicans aren’t willing to amend it to improve it because they want to kill it. Republicans currently hold the majority in both the Senate and House. President Obama is so frustrated with Congress that he has resorted to making sweeping executive orders, some of which probably exceed his authority.

This year’s presidential election has shown that there are lots of angry people. They want America to be great again, meaning that in their estimation America has declined both in the world and at home. They believe America has lost its power, its leadership, its vitality. They think we have weakly surrendered to illegal immigrants who have walked all over our laws and who now threaten American jobs and our way of life in general. They are frustrated with stagnant wages, unemployment and underemployment. They are wary of free trade agreements, thinking we have sent millions of jobs offshore. That’s more the Trumpean view.

Those “feeling the Bern” are also frustrated with America and the lost American Dream, and they lay the blame on politicians, Wall Street bankers and other insiders who incestuously support each other. The infamous 1 Percent are enjoying increasing incomes, while the rest of us are getting stiffed by the billionaires.

Conservative factions in the country believe the liberals have ruined everything – from blowing up the budget, piling up nearly $20 trillion in national debt, and expanding entitlements to the point that we soon won’t be able to afford them. They think the Affordable Care Act and other federal-run programs are unconstitutional, and that the ACA and those programs have stolen the rights of the people and of states to determine our fundamental laws. These conservatives are smarting over the federal preoccupation with cutting off what they perceive is their historical right to access public lands. The free enterprise system and its necessary analog, open and free world markets, are under assault.

Most sane people have laid the blame for the super-partisanship on both sides. This is evidenced by the fact that things are so bad that it can damage a political career to even associate with the other side.

The hallmark of legislative greatness has always been bipartisanship. This has especially been the watchword for American foreign policy decisions. It has always been said that partisanship stops at our national boundaries. When facing other nations, we pull together and act as Americans first. It is sad to see this hyper-partisanship rule in Washington.

Recently, I was talking with a sophisticated and very conservative voter. We discussed the need for cooperation and compromise between the two major parties in Washington, D.C. He surprised me when he said that he doesn’t want compromise and accommodation. He doesn’t want Republicans to compromise with Democrats to get legislation passed. He believes that compromising with liberals is worse than no action at all. A significant number of House members feel the same.

Sen. Sanders’ campaign has brought new life to the very liberal wing of the Democratic Party. With the new liberalism growing like gangbusters on the left and Tea Party conservatives on the far right, it is now almost impossible for public officials in Washington, D.C., to compromise and move forward on anything. When we have divided government as we do now with the Democrats holding the White House and the Republicans holding the House and Senate, neither party can move forward on enacting its program.

We can hope that this election will break the stalemate. But it’s not looking good.

If Trump were to win, it’s doubtful he’ll have a Republican Senate. If Hillary were to win, she would certainly have an uncooperative Republican House.

Is there someone among the five candidates left standing who could bring us together, who could unite us, who could find ideas of such commonality that Republicans and Democrats could work together on critical major issues? While that would be an excellent outcome, I’m unfortunately not confident that will actually come to be. However, I continue to exert my natural optimism. I hope it works.

Greg Bell is a former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current President/ CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.