The Politics of Procedure

The Republican and Democratic parties remain locked in a struggle against one another.  Their parity produces an agonizing see-sawing that distracts officials from their true representative function.  Careerism and the fate of partisan “teams” dominate the national narrative, coloring the news.

Every issue, including that of the role and condition of citizens in a republic, assumes a fantastical shape when seen through partisanship’s unreliable lens.  Only a few patriots like Liz Cheney use their time at the microphone to remind colleagues and peers that the entire political class is bound to a higher calling, which involves reverence for and adherence to the Constitution.

The federal system that binds disparate states and populations into one powerful nation has always involved trade-offs.  It involves one state putting up with another.  It involves something very much out of fashion, particularly among radicals: federalism requires compromise.

Compromise is often very painful, and it’s tricky.  Its crafters must bear the responsibility for compromise, which by its very nature is unpopular.  Compromise is never ideal; it’s always “less than.”

Those who compromise may suffer resentment and guilt.  Misgivings may haunt them, about whether their counterparts at the bargaining table are trustworthy or whether they could have gotten a better deal.  All this they have to manage while mitigating the disappointment of followers back at home.  And this is the best case scenario, because it assumes that a compromise can be made.

Compromises are imperfect, yet they are generally better than “settlements,” which are face-saving arrangements.  Compromises address painful underlying issues, whereas settlements are ways to avoid the issues and the responsibility that comes with facing them.  Settlements cost the parties nothing and tempt them into “kicking the can down the road.”  Settlements allow problems to balloon through neglect, to the point where they come to govern all other events, even usurping the rule of law.

Instead of tackling urgent national issues together, the parties–at every level of the federal system–are intent on “the politics of procedure.”  This style of politics focuses on the mechanisms of government.  According to the rules of this game, each party seeks to use government and every public power to consolidate and extend its own control.  This style of politics is very bad for the people.  It’s bad for the nation.  Yet, it has been increasing in popularity among politicians since the time of Newt Gingrich, reaching an almost intolerable crescendo today.

Whether Democrats or Republicans are on top is the principal issue in US politics today.  Each party is so used to this degraded form of politics that their members can’t see beyond party destiny.  Their sense of nation is nearly gone.  They imagine and tell one another that, if their party suffers defeat, nothing of value will remain.  They shame and punish anyone bucking the narrative.

Such is the state of politics in the United States.

Image: from this source.
In John Dorival’s 1834 drawing,
an eagle clings to a rock littered with symbols of American Union.
Above the shield of unity floats a baricole bearing the nation’s motto,
E Pluribus Unum (“From the Many, One”).

The poem reads
“Here on the Rock of Boundless Ages
Are Shades of Patriot Chiefs and Sages!
Who form’d our Constitutions Plan
On Moral Justice and the Rights of Man.”

4 responses

    • Eventually outside forces, which could include third-party movements, will push the two parties out of their stalemate. They are so evenly matched that even a small movement in one or two states could recast the terms of political competition.
      Tens of millions of people (many of whom are centrists) are disaffected with the parties. Even the insurrectionists were deeply disillusioned with them. People are dying for something new and wholesome to flock to.

  1. I’m very disappointed with how poorly Democrats and Republicans in Congress treat one other. The era of civility is gone. Politics has become almost tribal. Name-calling, jumping on any weakness, bad-mouthing opponents: it’s all disgusting.

    So often a politician’s aim is to get those precious seconds of a sound bite that will travel across the nation, capturing publicity and getting recognition for his or her name.

    I yearn for the days when the parties collaborated and lawmakers dined with one other. Informality and cordiality coaxed something more out of our leaders. For some reason, they were more able to come up with the ideas and measures needed to move the country forward. Even under the best of conditions, that’s a Herculean task.

    A willingness to compromise is nothing to be ashamed of.

    • The kind of socializing you mention was the backbone of politics for most of the nation’s history. Mingling had many advantages. From the political point of view, it transformed disparate people into a unique occupational class and helped transmit the unique stock-in-trade of leadership to newcomers, even as the composition of government changed. From a social and personal point of view, the hobnobbing that used to go on at the capital made prominence more rewarding and fun! The connections that politicians formed over time enhanced the satisfaction and prestige of their high positions, compensating for the many unpleasant and thankless aspects of officeholding.

      Eventually a really bright candidate will come along with the charisma of a Teddy Roosevelt or a Dolley Madison–then politics will recover its cache, and perhaps even its honor.

      Journalists and news outlets could also help the process along by looking for the good that is in Congress. There are still a few decent people–perhaps more than a few on each side of the aisle. They get overlooked. They receive little praise.