Boston’s political class has become polarized in the last few years to a degree that is counterproductive and potentially dangerous. As the larger republic staggers closer to a potentially existential cliff led by the truth-bereft Trump mob and now accelerated by the former president’s criminal prosecution, it’s time for Bostonians and New Englanders in general to ease back on internecine feuds. Our elected leaders must find common ground where possible, mend self-inflicted wounds, and gird our region for what could be a very disruptive and fractious few years ahead.
It’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees when one is too close to the bricks and mortar of the local ramparts. That’s been an evergreen dynamic in Boston’s wards and precincts, but lately it’s too easily calcified through the casual toxicity and anonymity of online jousting. That has led some in government, most recently City Council President Ed Flynn, to denounce those who harass and harangue him and his colleagues on social media.
Flynn’s point, which he has made before in other such instances, is well-taken. But it should be broadened to include a larger set of bad actors. There’s plenty of nastiness on both ends of the spectrum locally. In some cases, elected officials have themselves enabled and emboldened the nastiness by amplifying and legitimatizing trolls and well-documented traffickers of rumor, innuendo, and outright slander.
Politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows— and in the heat of a campaign, sometimes it’s easy to ignore the excesses of allies as they let loose on your foe. But, in the context of what’s unfolding nationally, it’s a poor look for leaders who should be focused on building consensus and coalitions to get things done.
Now would be a good time for erstwhile rivals in this city to pause, reset, and take a longer view of the stakes and the consequences. They should renounce, mute, and steer clear of the self-important trolls who clutter up today’s public square.
Follow that up with a full-throated acknowledgement that there’s far more that unifies our body politic and our local delegation than divides us. Public polling and election results consistently show that Bostonians prefer a liberal agenda, one that recoils against the regressive, extremist decisions of the right-wing Supreme Court, for example. Our local elected officials are largely in lock-step support of organized labor, increased wages and benefits for workers, and pro-immigrant policies.
Where there are sharper disagreements – largely on hyperlocal matters of redistricting political boundaries, for example – there are often nuanced and personality-driven reasons at play, more so than ideological views.
The electorate is weary of the perceived in-fighting and the unflattering transgressions of a few city councillors. To that end, there’s an election fast approaching through which voters can have their say— and we hope they’ll choose to send new delegates into the chamber.
Whatever the outcome, the members who are seated once the ballots are counted should take pains to moderate their approaches and make a point to find some collegial, public-facing consensus on matters of importance to their shared constituency. And they should do it not just to advance their personal performances and profiles, but also to strengthen and build civic confidence in our institutions of government locally.
It was once custom for partisan opponents to plan a post-election “unity breakfast” to mend fences and prepare for the job of governance. Here’s hoping that our local officials will see fit to make that a routine occurrence – and not wait for election day to break bread and find common ground. We have bigger battles ahead and they will require a form of trust, camaraderie, and communication that is far too lacking at the moment.