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.”

Day 21: The “Dangerous” Democrats

The backbone of Republican rhetoric is that Democrats are dangerous. Republicans claim the Democratic party is filled with people who are going to destroy what you depend on and take it away.  It is nearer to the truth to say that Democrats want to give more to ordinary Americans. They want to lift up ordinary citizens and commit government to their general well-being.  That is what makes Democrats so “dangerous.”

Republicans don’t want you to vote your interests.  They assail reasonable, equitable, policy goals as somehow subversive, un-American.  Too good to be true.

The Democrats want to give you something. The Republicans want to demonize that aspiration; they have been doing it for years, acting as though, in the richest nation on the planet, there isn’t enough to go around.  Republicans want you to believe in scarcity, in the hardship that will follow if the government tries to “lift all boats,” even as the tide has crested to record highs for the nation’s most wealthy.  Two days ago, the Federal Reserve released data showing that the wealth of the fifty richest Americans is roughly equal to that of half of the population.  That’s right: just fifty people have as much wealth as the poorest 165 million Americans, combined.

Republicans want you to believe that the Democrats’ more generous vision for America is dangerous.  They want you to believe that the US can’t afford to a system of universal health care, that it’s too much to hope for coverage that continues when you lose your job.  They want you to believe that efforts to ensure that you can see a doctor more easily and cheaply will harm you: that you will be harmed, your freedom destroyed, if American policy so much as ventures that way.

Republicans want you to believe the US can’t afford to have a thriving economy while mitigating climate change.  They want you to believe that protecting vital natural resources is going to leave you broke or unemployed.  Trump has rolled back every protection he can, adding pollutants to the water you drink and the air you breathe.  The truth is that going green will safeguard your community, your health and your property while creating a gravy train of new and socially meaningful jobs.

Trump is a master at demonizing the Democrats, repeating lies about Biden over and over again, such as that Biden wants to defund the police and get rid of fracking.  Trump groundlessly claims Biden’s recovery plans will destroy the economy, whereas Moody Analytics says that Biden’s plans are far superior to Trump’s, that they will promote a faster economic recovery while creating an estimated 7 million jobs.

So don’t believe the Republicans. Let yourself believe in a better, fairer, and more vibrant America.  Vote for the “dangerous Democrats.”  It’s better for America, and it’s better for you.

Image: “The Ring of Thanks”
from this source.

 

Day 49: The People Without A Party

The national struggle to defeat Donald Trump in November is going forward amid an exodus from the Republican Party and a paradoxical crisis in the two-party system.  The paradox is that, even as the parties and their candidates raise more and more money and draw the battle lines between one another more sharply, they excite more animus and aversion in the population at large.  It’s hard to be mindful of the huge swath of the American population that is withdrawn and disenchanted, unaffiliated and uncertain, especially given the hype that keeps Democrats and Republicans ever before our eyes.

This hype inadvertently sustains Trump’s power, a president whose popularity ratings are shockingly low relative to every other modern president.  Trump’s “base”– the amoral and low-information voters who continue to approve of him–lacks the geographic spread to prevail.  Meanwhile, legions of prominent and rank-and-file Republicans have either left the party, gone silent, or endorsed Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

The pool of voters available to put Biden in the White House is unusually large.  Let’s remember this as we work to get out the vote against Trump.  Innumerable voters besides those who are Democrat want Trump to go.

The millions of people currently without a party are something like “a silent majority.”  They do not need to be convinced to join a party: they only need to be persuaded to vote once for Biden and, by ending Trump’s disastrous presidency, save what’s left of our Constitutional system.  For that matter, the Senate Republicans (with the exception of the noble Mitt Romney) have so failed in their duties to the Constitution and the nation that the voters must try to depose them, too.

Image: Albert Levering’s “Republican Voters Revolt” (1910),
from this source.

The Costs of an Unresponsive Politics

A team of Democrats and a team of Republicans playing basketball.

This is the very picture of American politics: two parties playing for points, often in view of spectators, in an environment closed off from the ordinary world.

Individual lawmakers lack the autonomy that statesmen enjoyed in earlier times.  Most officials today are suited up for a game of party supremacy.  For its sake, they have lumped themselves together in the cadres of two warring tribes.  Personal stardom is the goal, but unfortunately it’s attainable only by playing on one of these powerful teams.  Fitting in with the pros is far more important to every politician than being true to the amateurish fans and mentors who gave them their start at playing back home.

The leading class in the US has gradually broken free of its traditional dependence on ordinary voters and local institutions.  It’s no longer necessary to be personally known and liked, no longer essential to win the approval of veteran politicians to get in the game.  Politicians no longer need friends.  They can rise with the help of consultants.  Using what is essentially a corporate model, they look for seed money, then hire and recruit and posture their way into office.  It’s a grueling, strenuous affair, impossible without the right coaches, communications people, and above all statisticians.  Using data and a bunch of sociological stereotypes, modern American politicians strive to make the right plays and garner the support needed to stay on in the brightly lit arena.

So it happens that local constituencies have very little influence over their ostensible “representatives.”  Their powers are amazingly puny when it comes to reining in politicians who forget about the people’s needs.  Once in power, officials who like it there can harvest money from sympathetic backers and use the media to project the right image back to their harried, perplexed, or complacent base.  As long as they do nothing objectionable, they may stay put longer than their achievements warrant.

George F. Will has rightly observed that there are two types of politician: the type that seeks office in order to do something, and the type that seeks office in order to be something.  In the tumultuous weeks of the impeachment and since, we’ve seen that the latter type of politician prevails.  As the Republicans, in particular, make an ever more desperate effort to maintain power and ignore inconvenient demands, the game drags on, as if it will produce what the nation needs.

Image: from this source.


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Mr Mueller and the Central Crime

Period drawing of puppet-master (putin) and his puppet characters (the Trumps)

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

Such were the parting words of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, as he announced the end of the so-called Russia investigation.  Since the bulk of his team’s report was released to the press and public on April 18th, its central allegation regarding Russia’s infiltration of American media and politics has attracted much less attention than the unsatisfyingly big questions Mueller’s investigation leaves.  “What did Trump have to do with it?” and “Can’t Congress impeach him?” continue to be uppermost in many American minds.

Will Democrats raise their sights and train them on protecting American politics and media from foreign infiltration?  Will they accept the paradoxical truth that, because impeachment is politically impossible, they must channel all their energies into having a “clean” election in 2020 and defeating Trump unequivocally at the polls?

As if Trump were the only president fishy shenanigans aided!  In the end, his election resulted from an ordinary electoral majority, notwithstanding all the dubious preliminaries.  This distinguishes his victory from other, more dubious outcomes such as Bush v. Gore (2000), Hayes v. Tilden (1876), and Adams v. Jackson (1824).  In those cases, the winners gained office only after strenuous post-election day maneuvering.  Given the power of the presidential office, every flaw and vulnerability in our manner of presidential selection should be boosted to the top of our political agenda and eliminated.

Mr Mueller’s remarks were peppered with finality.  Calling the report that bears his name “his testimony,” he expressed unwillingness to comment further on matters involved in the investigation, declaring flatly, “we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.”  No hypotheticals.  For those looking to prove that President Trump is a criminal, no further help can be expected from Mr. Mueller.  What hope is there that American officials will instead turn their attention to the central crime he found?

I . . . close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.