Bipartisanship in Congress has vanished as American democracy in the days of Donald Trump has suffered a dramatic collision of polarized political division. But it was not always that way.
In 1986, despite the same 47-53 minority as today, Democratic senators proposed a sweeping set of sanctions to press for real change in the white minority government of South Africa, then a pariah on the world stage.
Two moderate Republican senators, Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr. of Maryland, and Daniel Evans of Washington, took the lead in convincing Democratic colleagues, including Joseph Biden, to drop harsher provisions, such as closing the U.S. Embassy and blocking South African Airways from flying to the United States.
Mathias and Evans argued that such measures would cut off communications and intelligence gathering in an important country and hurt the United States. They agreed to back key Democratic measures such as stiff economic sanctions, an end to arms sales and a demand to free Nelson Mandela — then in jail — who later was the leader of the country.
As a result, a strong bipartisan bill was put together. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, a Republican, then backed the bill. The legislation was approved by the Senate, but vetoed by President Ronald Reagan.
Yet, 31 Republicans, including a first-term Kentucky senator named Mitch McConnell, joined the Democrats to override Reagan’s veto by a vote of 78-21. McConnell said Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement” was “wrong.”
Many factors led the white minority government in South Africa to surrender the reins of government to the black majority in the early 1990s. But the principled — and bipartisan — opposition of the United States played a key role.
Mathias and Evans were truly moderate senators who knew how to act in the national interest — a state of political courage and compromise that does not exist in today’s Republican Party.
Today, the GOP has become a pale shadow of its own history. It is in thrall to an intemperate, narcissistic and reckless demagogue who has no deep convictions other than what is good for his ego and pocketbook.
Under Trump, the party of Lincoln no longer supports civil and voting rights. Once considered the party of national security, the GOP now backs a president who supports Russia, a designated enemy. Once considered the party of fiscal discipline, it is now the party that ignores a sky-high deficit that followed Trump’s tax cut for the 1 percent.
Few Republicans dare to stand up to Trump, a former TV reality star who does not respect American values and the rule of law. He maligns top generals and admirals as “babies,” “dopes” and “losers”; he tells hangers-on to ” take out” respected diplomats; and he regularly takes the word of an authoritarian Russian leader over American intelligence agencies.
The Republican Party under Trump today shows little interest in bipartisan cooperation to tackle critical issues. With the exception of progress on criminal justice reform, the GOP today has moved to overturn health care, environmental standards and moderate gun measures. The Senate, under McConnell, has refused to act on nearly 400 bills passed by the House, including critical bills on infrastructure, climate change, and protecting our elections from Russian interference again.
Despite occasional murmurs of objection, Sen. Susan Collins, the last Republican in Congress from New England, has mostly gone along with the Trump- and McConnell-led destruction of bipartisanship.
Maine voters will soon decide on whether Collins deserves re-election. Meanwhile, despite only one name on the Republican ballot in Maine for the March 3 presidential primary, voters do have an option besides Trump.
You can write in a candidate, although that vote won’t be counted. And there is a strong, moderate Republican candidate who deserves support of every Republican who believes the party needs to return to the party of Lincoln, not remain Trump’s plaything.
William Weld was an effective governor of Massachusetts for two terms. He is an articulate, savvy lawyer who worked on the impeachment inquiry against Richard Nixon.
As a resident of Maine, a Republican and a person who is concerned about a rudderless, reckless and unprincipled president, I plan to write in William Weld in the March 3 primary in Maine.
Frederic B. Hill, of Arrowsic, is a former correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and worked on national security issues for the Department of State. He was director of foreign affairs for Sen. Charles Mathias Jr. in 1985 and 1986.
Clarification: Write-in votes for the March 3 party primaries in Maine will be not be counted.