Joseph N. Crowley is a former president of the University of Nevada, Reno.
How do you feel about the climate in the country?
It seems to me to be a major challenge in terms of the history of how we do politics in this country. On occasion, we read a situation that represents a challenge that we are not—at least recently—accustomed to. And we have a very significant set of divisions, I think, both among the population and the two major parties. Although, there may be a sign or two that we are trying to get back to the approach to decision-making in Washington that has made the country a reasonably stable operation for much of our history, and that is how to get the parties, or at least the people involved from the parties in the two houses of the legislature, to find middle ground. That is critical to the survival of the republic. I think we’ve lost a good part of that.
What do you think of the quality of the public dialogue?
It’s kind of a reflection on the quality of the legislative dialogue, it seems to me, although I believe the way in which the president handled his campaign probably exacerbated divisions. … So much name-calling. … Those are pretty significant differences from what we had been accustomed to, the presence of groups whose views run in a direction that is not the direction that the country is accustomed to or needs. … [Those who think] only whites can count in this country, their number is greater than it’s ever been, I think, at least in modern times. Just the use of language, I think—that in part is a reflection of what Mr. Trump did during the campaign, and that’s not a good sign for the country.
You’re a political scientist. Other than the Civil War, have there been periods of this kind of polarization?
I think we came close to that in the ’60s when we had not simply the issue of the war in Vietnam to contend with, but, as well, the civil rights movement and those who opposed it, you know, those who were responsible for moving that much needed Senate decisions to resolve what was possible to be resolved in the desires of the civil rights movement, and ultimately that led to significant changes. At the state level [today], it’s both parties taking, really, quite significant advantage of forgetting one person/one vote and seeing how they can building their legislatures with one party or the other … strengthening the dominance of one party or another. I don’t think that’s healthy.
I would argue that the polarization of the 1960s created some good things. Do you think that will happen with this period?
Oh, I agree. I was talking about living in the moment. I think we finally came out of that, but … the war was tearing us apart and the cities were burning. … What has to happen is for the parties to get straight with each other. When you look at the caucuses in the House of Representatives, the Tuesday Group, and the Freedom Group, and the middle of the road or—what do they call it?—the branch of conservatism that does really want to operate on the basis of the classical approach, that is, to do business with the other party. … There’s an opportunity, I suppose, for the Republicans to figure out something that works. Actually, let me back up a bit and say there’s also an opportunity in the House and probably in the Senate for the Democrats and Republicans—those believers in the need to try to find the way to meet in the vast middle territory.