Thursday, December 15, 2016

BiPolar Disorder

The model for our politics has morphed over recent decades into a full-scale war footing, though leaders among Democrats and the mainstream media have been slow to recognize the evolution. For the leaders, pre-election we say President Obama saying, to paraphrase, "We are all on the same team.", but Republican leaders do not see it that way and have not for a long, long  time. Republican leaders have regarded their political opponents not only as political enemies, but just plain enemies for many years.

Our democratic institutions have been reeling from the propensity of Republican leaders to stretch them to their limits without regard to the survival of those institutions and no apparent concern with the precipitous declines great powers have seen throughout history. Only recently did we hear the common refrain"Are We Greece?", which was ridiculous, when the better question was "Are We Rome?".

As we have been saying, T rump is nothing new, but is a more extreme case of Republican electoral strategy carried to its logical limit. The damage to the electoral process rendered by his success this year is almost beyond comprehension. If he had lost, the message may have differed. Instead, his success reinforces the clear message that a political leader how tries to be clear, direct and forthcoming makes a serious mistake. The formula for success is to be evasive and destructive, demeaning and crass, unknowledgeable and vague.

For the Senate majority leader, the calculus is clear. Having taken over the management of Supreme Court appointments, he now has his wife at cabinet meetings. The division of the spoils will allow McConnell to divide real political power with Paul Ryan, while they appease T rump by permitting him to amass as great a fortune as he desires without interference. This devil's bargain will continue until and unless Trump takes some action that they find unacceptable, which is unlikely. As president, he is likely to enrich himself in ways that could prompt Congressional action towards impeachment. But this run-up in his wealth will be the bargaining chip Ryan and McConnell need to keep in him line. They get the legislation they want and T rump gets the personal fortune he wants.

Before 2000, the Electoral College was long viewed as an odd institution that works just fine because... it doesn't do anything!  The outcome generally agrees with the popular vote totals. Defined as functioning well by not functioning at all is a dangerous proposition. With all of the other institutions of democracy in the U.S. at risk or failing , the electoral outcome in 2016 is one more blow at democracy, leaving the government in the hands of an uncompromising ruling minority.

The Republican model for governance shows through in North Carolina today as a microcosm of the U.S. The Democratic candidate for governor won a close election over the incumbent who has called a special lame duck session of the Republican legislature to pass laws designed to limit the powers of the newly elected governor. The pretext for the special session - the pretense- was to pass legislation for hurricane relief. So again, the ends justify the means. Lying about the reason for the special session is just another expediency which can be denied. The legislators who resort to these tactics are putting short term political gain ahead of the survival of democratic institutions that are in jeopardy of failing if citizens lose faith in democracy as a result.

And so the battle lines are drawn across political institutions at the federal and state level with Democratic officeholders set to employ tactics that Republicans have made their standard operating procedure to grasp and maintain power.

This is all very sad as it dawns on Democrats that Republicans have been fighting an all-out war for years with Dems mostly saying "we need to work together". Though we often hear that the electorate is polarized now as never before, that overstates the case. The actual polarization is at the political level in the willingness to employ scorched earth tactics which the Republican strategists long ago understood would give them the power to craft policy, even as a minority than they would have if they were willing to compromise. By adopting this approach, they made substantive campaigns a distant memory, plowing a path for a Trump candidacy. They made Democrats the enemy rather than their political opponents. Put those two outcomes together and no wonder we have Putin, the kleptocrat, an enemy of America and progressive democracies worldwide, becomes a close ally of the president-elect. Doesn't this mean that our president-elect, who assails our democratic institutions, has set himself up to be our enemy?

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