Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Cascade

As I recall events that followed the elimination of travel restrictions between East Germany and the West in November, 1989, the pundits' immediate reaction was that the reunification of Germany was inevitable, but it would take a long time with many details to be worked out, likely 10 years. Ten years sounded too long, but what did I know. Was that the expected time frame to merge their antiquated human resources systems? If the merger of two companies in the West requires one year or more, maybe the pundits know what they are talking about. But the merger proceeded faster than expected. Closer to 10 months than 10 years.

Equilibrium is an odd thing. A system in an unstable state can be so out of balance that it can not return to an old equilibrium and must establish a new equilibrium with a radically different look. In the U.S. , we still take for granted the stability of the political system. This is despite the many warnings from political observers.

The process of change itself becomes rapid. In 2016, we witnessed the US Senate refuse to even hold hearings on the president's nominee to the Supreme Court. Only months later, we now find the Director of the FBI playing a major role in the presidential election. This in a year with a candidate for a major party who is a nontraditional politician for the first time. This is not just a series of coincidences. Each of these examples is a sign that events are moving rapidly. The central tenet of this blog is that at some point tactics become policy. From a policy standpoint, we mean that government stasis or decline becomes inevitable. Pleas by Democrats for two sides to work together fall on deaf ears. Solutions based on compromise become impossible - immigration reform, fixes to the health care system, trade agreements, peace agreements, and so on.  Employing pure tactics for short term gain repeatedly means that the short term moves become themselves the long term result. Earlier this week we wrote, either the Republican Party splits into two parties, or the democratic underpinning of our system collapses , but to refine that point, we expect the Republican Party to split at least effectively into two parties in a way that is wrenching for the country. The Comey letter this past week so close to Election Day garners a lot of attention, but is only the latest event in a series of unprecedented events that lead to this downward cascade. In Winning is the Only Thing we note Paul Waldman's argument in WaPo that Republicans have become willing to ignore norms of behavior, the unwritten rules. But that is a different way of saying that Republican strategy, whether in the Congress, presidential campaigns, or journalistic practice has taken advantage of weaknesses in the systems and processes in a way that threatens the integrity of those systems--the very stability and structure of our government.

All tactics all the time has led to the recent arguments that hey, look ma, no Supreme Court and that may not be bad at all. Suddenly we hear the argument that a smaller Supreme Court would represent an improvement. Funny, I do not recall hearing that argument when Roberts and Alito were nominated. John McCain, Ted Cruz, and some guy at The Federalist all agree. So you start with the conclusion - we do not want to confirm any Hillary Clinton appointee to the Supreme Court---and look for justifications for that belief. Hmm. That sounds a lot like starting with the belief that Hillary Clinton must not be president, and then looking for any justifications for that belief that can be concocted.

With such tensions in the system, we need to take lessons from history about the danger that the escalation of political tensions often leads to destructive violence. The recent proliferation of "poll watchers" who are more likely to intimidate voters than to ensure a fair election is another indication of a disintegration in our political processes.

So what is the timing of all this? When does the house come crashing down? Is it 10 years,  10 months, or 10 weeks? No one knows for sure. But it could all be well under way within 10 days.

No comments:

Post a Comment