Extreme political polarization is a fact of life in the United States, but it doesn't mean CPAs have to surrender to it.
Members of the AICPA governing Council were briefed Wednesday on how the current polarization arose by guest speaker Amy Walter, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Cook Political Report. But while she knows how we got here, she can't predict if it will get worse before it gets better.
"I can't say whether we're at the top and at the tipping point, or if we're in the middle of it or somewhere at the bottom," she said in a pre-Council telephone interview. "I don't know."
Walter didn't forecast the results of the 2022 elections, but she is predicting the eventual passage of two hotly debated bills that are priorities of President Joe Biden's administration.
She said the infrastructure bill and the economic bill whose price tag has been trimmed from $3.5 trillion to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion will pass. The opportunity to control the presidency and both houses of Congress doesn't come around often in a polarized political landscape, and because of that Walter predicted Democrats will come together to enact those bills.
"We are so deeply but closely divided that if you're going to get anything done in Congress, you don't have time to wait," Walter said. "You don't have time to build coalitions. You need to get it done now because you could lose that majority at any moment."
Walter is less certain what will be in those bills because lawmakers are struggling to agree on a price tag as well as what should be included. But there are likely to be numerous provisions that affect the work of CPAs.
- Taxes: There are plans to extend the enhanced child tax credit and raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations. The infrastructure bill also may end the employee retention credit early and require broker reporting of cryptoasset transfers.
- Climate issues: Various initiatives would promote clean energy, including a possible energy-efficiency and clean energy standard. "Climate is one of the big pillars," Walter said.
- Health care: Biden's agenda calls for adding dental, vision, and hearing coverage to Medicare and closing the Medicaid gap for lower-income Americans.
Aside from being prepared for these possible changes, Walter recommends that CPAs break away from the polarization that has made each side feel like an election is an existential fight for the real America.
To de-escalate the polarization, she suggests it's best to avoid social media and cable news because, she said, those platforms follow algorithms and business models that are designed to stoke outrage on both sides of the political aisle rather than promote understanding of people's differences.
"You want to be able to break out of these bubbles that in many ways have been curated for you," Walter said. "Even if you're trying to stay above it all — 'I want to sell my services to everybody. I don't want to get stuck in this cycle' — it is hard to do when there are business models and algorithms that are designed exactly to do that [create division]."
She said it's also important to listen to others. Whether they're business associates, customers, or neighbors, some people are bound to have different views than you do. If you listen and try to understand, you might find common ground.
"I do think at its core what is missing and what people feel so frustrated about is a [lack] of empathy," she said. "There's a sense that people aren't listening to them."
— Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA's editorial director.