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A mood of political dereliction has been gathering for 25 years and has now resulted in a culture of negativity and unproductiveness in the U.S. Congress and the White House.

Many members of Congress, joined by our leader in the White House, believe in governing though animosity. That dangerous impulse to retaliate and keep score while appealing to the most basic and unfortunate instincts of one's “political base” is reaching the nadir of American disgrace.

My service in the Congress began 38 years ago and lasted for nine terms, but I will spare the reader my musings about how it was “back in the day.” Today’s problem is easy enough to see; politics have obviously become toxic. Most people, with the obvious exception of those who created this problem and wildly applaud it, must look away, shading our eyes, and plugging our ears rather than be witness to the vulgar mess that consumes the headlines of our newspapers and opens each television news cycle.

Perhaps it all began with those terrible national millstones of Vietnam, Watergate, and the resignation of Nixon. The pilot light of citizen mistrust was ignited and has now consumed not only belief of our federal government but also of our institutions, and that flame has spread to the distrust of one’s own schools and churches. Yes, many people have ample reason for skepticism, but for others the doubts have simply emboldened their long harbored suspicions and grudges.

Make no mistake, politicians have a good nose for tendencies; sniffing a growing movement they know which way it is headed and the most nimble, but certainly not the most thoughtful, jump quickly on that bandwagon. It is those elected “true believers” who have become the critical minority who are so often needed to pass or kill any legislation, and for the kicker, we have a President who lost the majority by more than three million votes.

Such is today’s real state of the union: tyranny of the minority.

For the moment we have a genuine crises in our country, but in America the middle always holds ... so it will again ... and soon.

Pat Williams served Montana in the U.S. Congress: 1979—1997. He lives in Missoula 

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