As we try to gain clarity in the 2016 presidential primary race, I look back with frustration at the complete disintegration of respect and reason on the part of our political establishment. What started eight years ago with President Barack Obama's election of hope and change has devolved into seven years of an obstructionist Republican Congress and the Tea Party, both single-mindedly obsessed with blocking any progress or reform; even those things that benefit them and their constituents.
This vitriol has lead us to this year's political environment, in which there's a large audience willing to support Donald Trump, a Republican candidate who associates himself with white supremacists, race baits Mexican-Americans and alienates Muslims. Trump's ability to harness that anger and hatred manifested itself during his (ultimately cancelled) rally last weekend in Chicago. Fights broke out and violence was encouraged, not deterred. What's worse, there's no sign of it stopping. Nearly every poll shows Republicans support Trump over all others, making him the GOP's likely nominee this fall.
But this isn't simply a Republican matter: Democrats have their own issues. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist who has refused any Super PAC support, has been able to touch the electorate's nerve on many progressive issues, such as income inequality or student loan debt. Because of that, we've been able to witness the rise of his remarkable grassroots-funded campaign.
Nevertheless, as the Republicans have moved further right, they've willfully failed to address the socioeconomic plight of a rapidly declining middle class. Instead, they've focused on demonizing President Obama and Congressional Democrats. And unfortunately, Democrats have taken the bait. The result has been an interparty rhetorical fight so divided, that it has led us not only to the most intransigent Congress in history, but also to the formation of an audience that enables candidates like Trump and Sanders to succeed.
Democrats should not have allowed for this partisan bickering and demonization to happen, where they accused Republicans of only caring about cutting taxes for the rich and defending traditional moral values, and where Republicans accused Democrats of being shills for environmentalists and unions. It's created a level of discord that has changed the way people viewed politics and led to extreme voter discontent. The voters heard the arguing back and forth, lost trust in government and became tired of politicians and a system that hasn't responded to their needs.
2016 is the culmination of both parties' failure. The rhetoric is so heated and the country is so utterly divided, that the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to perform their Constitutional duty when President Obama nominates a Supreme Court Justice. The result? Voters have turned to a political outsider who "tells it like it is," even if that candidate makes overtly racist remarks and alienates entire communities.
We cannot continue down this path. I served six years in the California Assembly, four as Speaker. I was able to work with a Republican Governor to pass four bipartisan state budgets and major legislation involving climate change, transportation and infrastructure. Why? Because I knew my first priority was doing what was best for California, not an obsession with partisan ideology or getting re-elected.
This election should serve as a wake-up call to both parties; especially to Democrats. If our Republic is to survive, we have to stop making decisions based on cold political calculations and partisan politics. Politicians, leaders, on both sides need to start acting in the best interests of the people and country they serve. We need risk-takers willing to cross party lines, not people worried only about their next office. We must work to address the real issues facing the country in a bipartisan manner.
And we need to do so urgently, because there are issues that can only be addressed when both parties work together. We need to face climate change head-on, an issue Republicans agree is a problem, but are often afraid to acknowledge because they're worried about hyper-partisan activists. Likewise, Democrats need to worry as much about job creation and economic development as they do about social programs. Traditional manufacturing in this country has been replaced with IT and biotech industries. How do we retrain an entire workforce to integrate into a new economy that's already arrived?
Ultimately, while cynical Democrats might say they'd like to see Trump in the General Election, ultimately, the vitriolic animosity he represents is bad for Democrats and Republicans alike and most concerning, for the entire country. It's bad for anybody who cares about our democracy and the values on which this country was built. Be careful what you wish for - if Donald Trump's new audience comes out in droves and if the rest of the country doesn't vote, he could become the next President of the United States.
Fabian Nunez is Speaker Emeritus of the California Assembly. He is a partner at Mercury Public Affairs.