03:16 - Source: CNN
How Klobuchar plans to defeat Trump in 2020

Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst and anchor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo penned an op-ed, published Monday in the Washington Post, in which he asked a series of 35 questions about our current political environment. It was designed to inspire a bit of reflection in a political culture that encourages anything but. And it was compelling enough that I decided to bite. So in response to Cuomo’s “35 questions,” I offer my own 35 answers. Cuomo’s questions (the toughest of which, for what it’s worth, seemed directed at Cuomo’s own Democratic Party) are included below in italics, followed by my responses. Enjoy. Debate. Disagree. Let’s just try to do so civilly.

John Avlon

1: Which came first, President Trump or the degradation of our political system: Which was the cause, and which was the effect? President Donald Trump is a symptom, not the cause, but he exploited and exacerbated our political divides for personal gain.

2. When did political debate become reduced to 280 characters on Twitter? When Trump used Twitter to set the terms of political debate, perfectly tailored to short attention spans and the media’s conflict bias.

3. When did the number of Twitter followers become the measure of political viability? See above.

4. How did an Instagram post come to command more respect and attention than a substantive policy presentation? People have always liked pictures. Remember Ross Perot’s oversized charts?

5. How did “successful journalism” come to be defined by the number of clicks? When those who produce online journalism realized it needed to become profitable or it would die. Alternatively, advertisers could choose at any time to support quality journalism based on quality and engagement rather than clicks.

6. When did we stop believing what we read in the press? When the fairness doctrine was eliminated and partisan news started parading under the slogan “fair and balanced” while attacking legacy news organizations as “liberal media.” It’s no accident that trust in media has declined while partisan media has been on the rise.

7. When did cable news turn into the World Wrestling Federation, with each contender playing to its own cheering section? See above. And thank Roger Ailes.

8. Why are the least informed, most unrealistic and most unreasonable political voices the loudest? Because demagogues don’t need to worry about actually uniting a nation and solving problems.

9. When did the labor movement become viewed by some as the enemy of the middle class? Probably in the 1970s and 1980s when periodic strikes and union featherbedding – combined with corporate greed masquerading as maximizing shareholder value – helped lead to plant closures in mid-sized American cities.

10. When did this country, which once built the tallest buildings and longest bridges, forget how to build and allow itself to lose its global competitive advantage? When the cost of new construction increased exponentially thanks to lawyers and overregulation – and hyperpartisan divides made accomplishing great national goals feel politically impossible.

11. When did we lose our confidence? America has always alternated between naive optimism and deep anxiety about the future, going back to the founding fathers. At the midpoint in the so-called “American Century” – the 1970s – we were dealing with Watergate, economic malaise and urban decay. But today we’re no longer the rising power on the geo-political stage. In response, we need to defend our diverse liberal democracy without apology and advance policies that unite our nation rather than dividing into warring tribes.

12. Why is it that teachers, doctors, lawyers, hair stylists and plumbers need a license to do their jobs – but the job of president requires no qualifications or experience? Because we’ve overregulated small businesses while turning politics into a reality show – rather than an exercise in solving problems across partisan divides.

13. Is campaign finance reform an oxymoron as long as rich corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals can still make unlimited “dark money” contributions? Justice Kennedy may have intended his Citizens United decision to advance transparency, but it hasn’t done that. It’s a long road, but it may be time to pursue a constitutional amendment on election reform that will address big money in politics and level the playing field.

14. What happened to ideas that are good and sound rather than ideas that sound good but are unrealistic and infeasible? Populism is usually the opposite of pragmatism. And demagogues don’t care about solving problems.

15. Does anyone remember the old saying about political candidates: “Before they tell you what they are going to do, ask them what they’ve actually done.” We’re reaping what we’ve sown with a culture where celebrities get famous for being famous rather than doing something well.

16. When did the greatest threat to America become other Americans, and when did diversity become our weakness rather than our strength? When we started advancing a more tribal version of identity politics that elevates our interesting differences over our common humanity. America always works best when we recognize that what unites us is far more important than what divides us.

17. When did some people begin thinking anti-Semitism is tolerable? Social media has helped amplify this ancient form of hate on the far right and the far left.

18. When did white supremacists become so emboldened that when they rally in our streets they no longer feel the need to cover their faces with hoods? When white identity politics went mainstream, with political leaders and partisan media echoing white nationalist talking points, unwittingly or not.

19. When did Puerto Rico become a foreign country? It’s not, of course. But first ignoring and then politicizing the massive death toll from Hurricane Maria is a scandal that would not have been tolerated in the mainland United States.

20. When did the Democratic Party stop being a big-tent party? The Democratic Party is more evenly balanced between liberals and moderates than the Republican Party, but social media has made the far left louder. President Barack Obama is right about the dangers of a “circular firing squad” that comes from ideological purity tests.

21. When did the political left become an enemy of the political left and the Democratic Party become a circular firing squad? See above.

22. When did we decide compromise was a bad word? When negative partisanship turned political opponents into personal enemies. It’s hard to compromise with someone you hate – especially when members of Congress have lifetime employment unless they lose closed partisan primaries.

23. When did our people stop believing our government can function as a force for good? When bureaucratic overreach led people to applaud President Ronald Reagan’s signature line, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

24. When did people start running for office just so they could sell a book or to boost their business? See previous discussion of politics as celebrity rather than problem solving.

25. When did we lose respect for our history and choose not to learn from it? When we started seeing America’s historic sins as irredeemable and simultaneously gutted civic education in our public schools.

26. When did we decide progressive posturing is more important than progress? See previous discussion of politics as celebrity rather than problem solving.

27. When did Democrats get so caught up in hating the rich that they forgot about helping the poor? Class warfare is a powerful political narcotic – and the rise of the super-rich after the great recession has created a fertile field for this resentment because our economy doesn’t seem like it’s working for all.

28. When did the struggling middle class begin believing that the Democratic Party had abandoned them and put its trust in the Republican Party? When pumping up culture war concerns gave the middle class an outlet for their frustration after feeling squeezed over decades.

29. When did it become acceptable that high-ranking government officials lie all the time? When hyperpartisanship and polarization led people to the embrace the insane idea of “my party, right or wrong.”

30. If so many people are so frustrated, then why don’t more people vote? A feedback loop from anger to alienation to apathy that threatens our democracy by allowing our politics to get hijacked by the extremes.

31. What happened to political courage? We started punishing political independence under the weight of the groupthink that comes from ideological polarization.

32. When did we lose our sense of humor? When taking offense and playing the victim card became celebrated as positions of moral authority.

33. When did we get so angry? I’m going to go back all the way to the Civil War on this one. It’s flowed downstream to our culture from there: North versus South, black versus white, left versus right. Diversity is America’s greatest source of strength. But we need to transcend our tribalism to survive.

34. Where is the emergency exit for this theater of the absurd? Just maybe – the 2020 election.

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    35. Is it time that all Americans look ourselves in the mirror and ask if each of us is doing all we can to make a positive difference in our future? Hell, yes. Past time. Be the change you want to see.