ICYMI: Suozzi Pens Newsweek Op-Ed – “Why Are My Colleagues in Congress Throwing Flames Instead of Doing Their Jobs?”
Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island, Queens), in response to the growing rancor and division in Washington, DC, wrote an Op-Ed published in this week’s Newsweek entitled, “Why Are My Colleagues in Congress Throwing Flames Instead of Doing Their Jobs?”
Why Are My Colleagues in Congress Throwing Flames Instead of Doing Their Jobs? | Opinion
THOMAS SUOZZI, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEW YORK'S 3RD DISTRICT.
Why does America feel so fractured with so much division? The rancor and misinformation proffered by some of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, the blood-boiling commentary on cable "news," and the negative tone on social media, which is often amplified by our foreign adversaries, has made us "a house divided against itself." Can we continue to "stand"?
There has been much debate about censuring some of my colleagues, removing them from their committee assignments, or strongly calling them out for their sometimes mean-spirited, inaccurate, and inflammatory comments.
We see this happening on both sides of the aisle: members who throw flames and then reap all of the attention. But to what end? It hinders the advancement of important legislation and blocks opportunities to solve problems. It's seems to be just to get attention, for clickbait.
What's going on? Why are the most extreme members of Congress rewarded with the most small-dollar donations, the most Twitter likes and the most cable news attention, while members who practice civility or search for compromise are an afterthought?
I would argue that because almost 90 percent of House seats are "safe." Since district lines were drawn to heavily favor one party over the other, over 90 percent of incumbents are reelected. The only way to beat a Congressmember in one of these "safe seats" is to primary them, but few people vote in primaries—less than 10 percent—and those who vote tend to be more extreme on the political spectrum.
What this means is that the most right wing Republicans and the most left wing Democrats are the ones effectively calling the shots: Members often feel constrained to bend toward the direction of their "primary" voters and become less inclined to stand in the middle or compromise. Many believe that the more hyperbolic their positions and excessive their behavior, the more likely they are to win primaries, raise online contributions, and appear on news talk shows.
And yet, in so doing, those members are representing the few, rather than the many. Most voters would rather see their representatives seek common ground to solve the many problems we face. All of this polarization has resulted in Americans becoming disenchanted and disengaged from their government, and social media has only heightened their discontent.
But it's coming at us from all sides. We have all seen the nasty posts that sometimes even outperform cat videos. Depending on the show and the target audience, cable news will hire talent and invite guests that will reinforce their narrative that "the other side is destroying our country." Scariest of all, the Russians and Chinese are using these divides and platforms to further promote our civil unrest.
Meanwhile, our cell phones and laptops have become a treasure trove of misinformation, fake news, and phony websites. Some say it's become a dystopian wilderness where bots and trolls roam free. Our screens are stained by "disinformation," the phrase aptly translated from the Russian word, dezinformatsiya, where it originated.
And computer algorithms are deliberately programmed to feed us more and more of the same content we seem interested in. We are inundated with our own carbon-copy thinking. We build ourselves echo chambers to reinforce our views. Conspiracy buffs become conspiracy nuts. Those prone to hate become more hateful. "Violence begets violence."
For many years, political scientists were worried that the "uninformed" voter might sway close elections. We now face a more dangerous risk: "misinformed" elected officials and others peddling a false narrative.
And it's never-ending. We have been overcome by the phenomenon of the new 24-month campaign cycle. The Republican effort to take back Congress began even before last year's election was called. Earlier this year, many opposition candidates announced their candidacy for late next year. Elected representatives find themselves automatically shifted into perpetual campaign mode, which is good for election season but lethal to the legislative session. It's no wonder we can't compromise to get things done.
Almost three years ago, an American hero, John McCain, gave his farewell speech to the Senate. He spoke clearly of the necessity of compromise, and the need for humility and cooperation among his colleagues. No matter how much they disagreed, they had an "obligation to work collaboratively," Senator McCain said.
"Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet," Senator McCain said. "To hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."
Congress must turn away those who peddle fear and loathing, who seek out the worst in us, rather than the best. They mean us harm. They feed on our failures, grow stronger from our dissension. Worse they replicate, like a virus, ten-fold our own malice, mistrust, and malevolence.
We must continue to condemn hate speech at all costs, in every corner of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, and throughout society, so we can take back the House from those who would divide it.
Thomas Suozzi is the U.S. Representative for New York's 3rd district.