what comes next se cupp 7 thumb
SE Cupp: Partisanship is profitable
03:39 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Watch the full conversation with SE Cupp, Van Jones and Alice Stewart on “What Comes Next?” here. CNN host Van Jones is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

With Joe Biden set to inherit a divided America in January, he’ll face considerable challenges, all of which will be made harder without cooperation, consensus-building and compromise. But with the far extremes of both parties resistant to coming together, who will be there to work with? This week, CNN political commentators Van Jones and Alice Stewart tackle this in our discussion, but first, Van Jones writes our op-ed: What comes next for America and unity? –SE Cupp

Since his first speech as President-elect, Joe Biden has maintained a consistent message: He is committed to unifying the growing divides in America. For the Americans exhausted by the chaotic rhetoric of the Donald Trump era, the sentiment comes as a welcome reprieve. But, in a time when the lack of consensus seems to be the only thing there’s consensus about, is healing even possible? And, if so, how do we get from here to there?

Before we can find the right solutions to our present pain, we must properly define the problem. Across our country, the accents might change and the skin colors may differ, but the major problems we’re seeing are the same: soaring Covid-19 rates, an ongoing opioid crisis, high rates of poverty and a broken criminal justice system.

In a sane society, common pain should lead to common purpose. And common purpose should lead to common projects and solutions. That kind of breakthrough is possible, but only if dedicated Americans from all political traditions join forces to confront the acute pain in our society: the virus, the addiction crisis, the poverty, the broken justice system – to name a few.

If we are going to mend these ideological fissures, we cannot continue to play into the current “us vs. them” dynamic. We need to invest in an alternative. That alternative will arise from a solution-oriented, positive kind of populism – one that puts truth above tribalism, results over rhetoric, and people over partisanship.

We need a “bipartisanship from below” approach. We need the kind of alliances that ordinary people discover when they reach out to solve the deadly serious problems that land on their doorsteps. That kind of solidarity emerges – however conditionally – when good people help one another as neighbors, as Americans, as human beings.

Bipartisanship today is different from the top-down bipartisanship of the 1990s and early 2000s, which, for many, left a bad taste. Both parties were overly influenced by moderates and centrists, some of whom had no strong ideological commitment – except to do the bidding of their private and/or corporate donors, which contributed to the signing of NAFTA, prisons everywhere and endless wars.

As a result, many people of strong political conviction on both the right and the left came to distrust anyone who talked about “compromise” and “reaching across the aisle.” And the grassroots movements – from Black Lives Matter to the Tea Party, from Bernie Sandernistas to the MAGA-hat crowd – revolted against the traditional dealmakers in both parties. The resulting partisan division has convinced much of the public that the parties can never cooperate on anything.

But that’s not true. Today’s bipartisanship is actually supported by strong partisans, not by weak moderates. And it is driven from below, by desperate outsiders whose communities have been let down and left out for generations.

I’ve had my share of success working with “the other side.” Here are a few key lessons I’ve learned about how to make that a success:

1. Common pain should lead to common purpose. We need to pay less attention to the politics at the top and more attention to the pain at the bottom. Pick tough issues that neither party has been able to solve. Only the most principled people in either party will touch those causes, so you will start out with great partners.

2. Separate battleground issues from common ground issues. Some issues are still hot and divisive. State your differences on those issues – and then move onto areas where you can get something done. You can fiercely oppose someone on a battleground issue and still work with them on a common ground issue.

3. Don’t convert. Cooperate! Don’t try to make other people adopt your worldview just to work on a problem together. I’ve found, for instance, that progressives working to fix the prison system are often motivated by empathy and a desire for racial justice. On the other hand, conservatives often want fiscal restraint, less government overreach, and second-chance redemption for fallen sinners. We have different reasons, but we want the same result. Let that be good enough.

4. Start human, stay human. Respect that whoever you are working with on the other side has noble ideals and values. Don’t make them bear the cross for the misdeeds of the worst elements in their own party. They can’t control their yahoos any more than you can control yours. And when disagreements arise, don’t call people out based on your set of principles. If anything, try to call them up to a higher commitment — inviting them to better honor their own principles.

There are at least four areas where Americans could make progress:

Covid vaccine

While there is no question the virus itself has been politicized, the distribution of the vaccine offers an opportunity to rebuild faith in institutions and government. Though there is still a lot of work to do, public confidence in the vaccine is growing. By activating a well-organized national and grassroots messaging and distribution strategy, there is an opportunity to rebuild trust and exhibit the value of government and health institutions.


When the face of addiction was Black, our government saw addiction as a crime, not a disease. Over 30 years ago, America shamefully filled its prisons with young men of color in response to the “crack epidemic.” Today, as the body count has risen in Whiter parts of the industrial heartland and Appalachia, the public rhetoric has been more sympathetic. But progress has been too slow.

There remains great wisdom in urban America about how to respond compassionately and effectively to people trapped by drugs. Sadly, many rural White leaders have not yet had the good sense (or national contacts) to reach out to Black America for help. And Black, brown and urban leaders have not yet had the heart (or bandwidth) to offer it. But a rural-urban alliance to tackle the addiction crisis would have great appeal and power.

Mental health

There is a homicide crisis in urban America, and too many African Americans and Latinos have attended too many funerals and buried too many sons and daughters. Meanwhile, there is a suicide crisis in rural America. And too many of our veterans, abandoned after a generation of war, face PTSD and other diagnoses without the support they need. These vets are as likely to come from inner-city Detroit as rural Georgia. This trauma needs treatment on a mass scale, and a stronger blue-red alliance is waiting to be formed.

Intergenerational poverty

Finally, there’s intergenerational poverty – from Appalachia to the inner city. The truth is that there is no such thing as a liberals-only or conservatives-only solution to entrenched poverty.

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    Low-wealth communities need government intervention through some combination of social programs, tax credits and well-designed opportunity zones (which offer tax incentives to invest in low-income communities). But to benefit from these measures and succeed, an individual also needs the traditional values of hard work, sobriety and thrift – virtues often stressed by conservatives. Real solutions require both social and personal responsibility.

    We need each other. To uplift those whom Jesus called “the least of these,” we don’t have to convert or annihilate each other. Liberals can stay liberal; conservatives can stay conservative. Liberals fight for social justice, while conservatives fight for liberty. Both traditions are necessary for America to have liberty and justice for all.

    To end the food fight at the top of our political parties, we need strong partisans at the bottom working together. Bottom-up bipartisanship can solve the problems that top-down bipartisanship created. Common pain at the grassroots level can lead to common purpose, common ground and common-sense solutions. Now more than ever.