Remembering Rep. Don Young US Democracy & Overcoming Political Polarization BY nicole makar
As we mourn the passing of Alaska Congressman Don Young, I can’t help but reflect on a phone call I shared with him in February of last year regarding the political state of our country. He said something that stuck with me, enough so that I felt it my responsibility to convey to my fellow Alaskans. When I asked about the state of our republic, he paused, then slowly but sternly replied, “We are on the verge of losing this great [American] democracy.” US democracy, he added, is being threatened by intense political polarization.
The American people no longer see themselves as one but are permitting internal differences to divide us at our very core. He explained this reality as deeply threatening because it has affected the foundations and processes that ensure a government of the people. While Congress is designed to be solely responsible for this direct representation, Young explained that party divisions within Congress are hindering it from proper functioning. Governing capability is shifting to the executive branch, in which the president is authorized to govern by decree. Young stated this shift is relatively new, and every day it continues to threaten American democracy and the very freedoms we so proudly possess.
Young’s 49 years in office provided him this unique perspective of our mighty country. As Dean of the House, Young served in public office for longer than any other member of the current Congress. He witnessed American politics and partook on the front-line. He represented Americans from the Vietnam War to the coronavirus pandemic. A proud American and Korea War - Era veteran, Young consistently strived to uphold American values and needs.
I realized this division is all my generation knows, so it’s easy for us to dismiss these concerns as ‘normal.’ Despite serving through nearly ¼ of American history, Young revealed that the reality we face is extremely unique. He unveiled that if we want to preserve the America we so proudly love, we must come together and hold Congress accountable for representing us. When I asked Young how I could be part of the solution, he noted the importance of working across party lines. Within Congress, he stated the first step is returning control to the chairmen of the committees, not to divide between Republican or Democrat bills.
Despite these challenges, when I asked Young why he was still working in Congress at 87 years old, Young responded, “Because I still pray that I can help change Congress to the way it should be...I won’t see [the future of American democracy], but my grandkids will.” While public debate or differing in opinion is good for a healthy democracy, what our country is experiencing is a dangerous type of division. I write to you as an American above all else. In honor of all those who stand behind us, and for the sake of all those in our future, we must find a way to coexist so that our country can face the challenges of today and tomorrow to the best of our abilities.
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