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The Alchemical Art of Bipartisanship

 4 min read / 

Picture the scene: a music hall in lower Westchester, 25 miles north of Manhattan. Joe Jackson and his band are starting their 2018 tour. Joe Jackson’s first hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him”, was in 1979. Quite the career. As he observed, there are now more parents of teenagers in his audiences than there are teenagers.

What Artists Do

The performance was great: Jackson on piano and vocals, accompanied by a bass player, a drummer and a guitarist. He played new material and old. One of his observations, introducing a new song, was that he has always been fascinated by alchemy. As he put it, alchemy is “taking all kinds of crap and turning it into gold”. That, he said, is what artists do. Musicians and painters, writers and sculptors filter the world around them and produce their particular brand of art. The art produces connections and, in many ways helps make sense of the world around them.

Journalists are artists too. Deborah Campbell discusses a kind of journalism, literary journalism, that tries to make some sense of what
she refers to as the ‘forest of things’. The forest is particularly dense at the moment. There are bizarre claims that the United States is more divided than ever before. The news media is fanning these flames with articles decrying the Trump administration’s assault on many of the values that America holds dear. The litany of crimes is extensive and many of the allegations have merit. There is perhaps though something of a loss of perspective and good journalism needs to restore the balance – set the record straight.

Partisanship

Friendships have been tested by discussions of politics. The concept of reasonable people disagreeing has taken a back seat. Discussions of politics and are banned, traditionally, as part of polite dinner conversation. That seems to concede too much to the baser instincts. The idea that such topics can be discussed with respect and consideration for opposing viewpoints is an important one.

There is no more partisan experience than watching a World Cup match. The camera captures the emotions on the field and in the stands. Every fan is committed to their team and agonises through the quick counter-attacks, agonisingly wide shots and the dreaded penalty shootouts. There are always winners and losers and someone will go home with the trophy. The teams compete fiercely and shake hands. There are rules, arbitrators and a process. Competing fairly is a skill.

The political process weeds out winners and loser and, like the World Cup, sometimes delivers surprises. Joe Crowley was expected to win the 14th Congressional District in New York. The last time he faced a primary challenge was in 2004, before his opponent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was old enough to vote. Crowley was a strong candidate to replace Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi. Money cannot, it seems, always buy enough votes. Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, observed that New York would now have (it is expected, given her district is strongly Democratic, that she will be elected to Congress in the fall elections) a Congresswoman who sounds like Cardi B.

Supreme Court Arguments

As Ocasio-Cortez enters the fray of partisan politics in Washington DC, she should study the friendship between Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, two Supreme Court Justices who rarely found themselves on the same side of an argument. Scalia was staunchly conservative; Bader-Ginsburg is staunchly liberal. Their arguments were respectful and intellectual, rather than personal. They shared a
love of opera and tempered their disputes with humour. When Bader-Ginsburg attributed her falling asleep during a State of the Union address to having drunk wine with dinner, apparently, Justice Kennedy had brought a fine Californian wine and Bader-Ginsburg’s prior resolution to consume just sparkling water was overturned by the food’s need for a good wine accompaniment, Justice Scalia observed it
was the first intelligent thing she had done…

The Last Track

The spirit of partisanship is alive and well in America. Its role is to spice rather than spoil the debate about important matters – the World Cup, after all, is not an exhibition match. Artists, as Joe Jackson points out, are alchemists to some degree. They, along with the journalists who practice their alchemy on the news fragments that surround every day lives, help find a way through the forest of things. In the end, the best partisanship is Bi.

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