Despite Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency, a rise that relied largely on a campaign that painted his image as a dealmaker and negotiator, lawmakers in Washington D.C. remain gridlocked. On Wednesday, award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence delivered a lecture at the university about the origin of this legislative stagnation and how it affects the nation today. The majority of Lawrence’s lecture discussed the nuances of congressional dealmaking.
“We used to have the ability to make compromises and inch forward, but we aren’t good at that these days,” Lawrence said. “The question is: can we get it back?”
Lawrence is an editor and a columnist at USA Today. Previously, she has written for the U.S. News and World Report and the Creators Syndicate. Since January 2016, she has worked as the commentary editor of USA Today, recruiting and engaging in conversation with writers from across the political spectrum.
Lawrence has authored and coauthored several political analysis books, the most recent of being “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock”. The book, bolstered by Lawrence’s extensive research, utilizes the firsthand accounts of lawmakers and staffers to explore instances where congress overcame partisanship to pass key legislation.
In her lecture, Lawrence contended that her book is especially relevant because it provides a guide for legislators to compromise and create working solutions in today’s polarized political landscape.
“We want journalism to survive and thrive, and we also want the free exchange of ideas,” Lawrence said. “I don’t mind publishing different points of view. This is not the prevailing mindset of Americans, at least not among many of our political leaders. In the last decade or so, the country has become so increasingly polarized.”
Referencing “The Art of the Political Deal”, Lawrence listed a few commonalities between the instances of bipartisan negotiation on Capitol Hill, which led to substantive legislative action. One such commonality is the tendency of lawmakers to seek compromise out of a fear of failure — they do not want to appear before their constituents having accomplished nothing. This, according to Lawrence, can overcome the congressional philosophy that discussing with the opposition implies weakness.
Lawrence criticized leaders on both sides of the aisle and brought attention to the particular failures of President Trump as a dealmaker. Lawrence believes his inconsistency, untruthfulness and brash style were untenable with effective administrating.
“Maybe those are good negotiating tactics in business,” Lawrence said. “But they don’t work in American politics.”
Despite spending considerable time on the endemic problems facing Congress, Lawrence’s lecture focused on devising solutions which would encourage bipartisan compromise. Lawmakers face extreme scrutiny by journalists, voters and colleagues. Voters, Lawrence said, can intimidate their representatives into voting.
Lawrence hopes that voters will become more aware of how their representatives vote. A greater awareness of politics, she believes, naturally leads to greater accountability. Lawrence encouraged more legislators to vote out of principle without fear of disapproval. She cited Utah Senator Bob Bennett, a Republican who voted for the 2008 bank bailout and was subsequently criticized by conservatives, as an example of bravery.
“Congressmen can be punished for voting against the party,” Lawrence said. “Maybe that matters too much these days. We need people who are willing to go to the mat for what they think is right.”
Lawrence said that “compromise” is a dirty word in politics because politicians wish to appear infallible and strong. She contends, however, that compromise is a positive outcome because it creates more trust and willingness to negotiate.
“It’s hard to get a crowd to rally for compromise, but it’s a worthy enterprise,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s what this country was built on, and it’s how we need to go forward.”