Regression in the legislature

The current erosion of political civility in Washington is even more stark when compared with times when Republicans and Democrats worked together to resolve the most urgent national challenges.

An example is the Civil Rights Act, which was signed 50 years ago yesterday. It ended racial discrimination in public places, employment and federally funded activities, like education.

The legislation was historic, passing in the Senate with support from 73 Democrats and 27 of the 33 Republicans that made up that body. This was a truly bipartisan vote, with majority support from both parties.

The vote was not easy, since Southern segregationists were politically strong. However, Democrats and Republicans did the right thing—although some paid for their bravery during subsequent elections, because of voters who preferred discrimination.

That Congress showed the type of courage that is conspicuously absent today. If that bill were to be introduced now, it would have no chance of being approved, given the environment of legislative hostility.

Washington is paralyzed, unable to reach any agreement on issues like election law and immigration, among many other important matters. The word negotiation is no longer considered a virtue; it is seen as weakness by a wing of the Republican caucus that bets on all or nothing.

Rivalries have always existed in Washington. Nevertheless, they were very different from the immature hostility of lawmakers who, lacking support for their ideas, focus on obstructing other’s ideas. Therefore, it is not unusual that the past two legislative sessions were the least productive in recent memory. Or that the House of Representatives threatens to sue the president because he refuses to accept the blocking of his initiatives.

Our country’s most important laws first required respect and tolerance for the opponent’s ideas in a way that allowed for negotiation. That is how democracy works.

On a day like today, we could talk about the red-hot issues that are pending or have intensified in the civil rights area. However, there is no point if the process meant to resolve them seems to have deteriorated much more than the laws themselves