This summer, politics crushed the people

In America, all power belongs to the people, and politicians and public servants work for us. On paper, anyway.

Except it doesn’t work that way. Police are killing citizens instead of protecting them, and politicians are waging partisan warfare against each other instead of saving the people from crushing health and economic crises.

One thing 2020 has proven is an election year is the worst time to have a crisis. Not to mention two of them.

NBC News op-ed writer Jonathan Allen says there was never any chance Congress would ride to the rescue again this summer. Those in a position to make it happen had other priorities, and anyway the political dynamics of this election year made it impossible. (Read his article here.)

McConnell’s priority was to hold his fractured caucus together, where ideologues seek to overrule pragmatists, and preserve his majority in this fall’s elections if he can. He was so bent on keeping that split from worsening “that he waited a couple of months to counter House Democrats’ $3 trillion stimulus with a $1 trillion [counteroffer] and then absented himself from negotiations,” Allen says (emphasis added).

He knew that he’d have to stitch together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, mostly of Democrats, to pass a new relief bill. Given a White House occupant of his own party with a dictator mentality who wanted to dictate all the terms, he didn’t make the effort. He hid from the media instead.

Trump’s terms weren’t much short of a demand for unconditional surrender. They included a drastic cutback of the unemployment benefits keeping tens of millions of unemployed workers afloat and their bills paid; only miserly and grudging aid to help schools reopen safely, even as he insists they reopen; and stonewalling any assistance to states and cities deprived of tax revenues, especially the blue states. He also wants to starve the Post Office of money to enforce his opposition to mail voting in blue states, which he sees as a threat to his reelection.

Even if the 47 Democratic senators, or a big chunk of them, waved the white flag and went along with this, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance on Venus that House Democrats would follow suit. That would betray the voters who elected them. Put this in context: the Democrats won their House majority in 2018 as a result of voter backlash against Trump and his policies.

I’m not ruling out, at this point, the eventual passage of another relief bill. Exigencies and imperatives may yet compel a deal of sorts.

I can make a pretty strong argument that Democrats should exchange yards for inches. Looking at the polls, they’ll probably be in a position to fix the deficiencies in a few months. Think of the present crises as a river we have to cross. There are three ways to get across a river: a proper bridge, a temporary improvised bridge, or swimming. When you absolutely must cross a river, and do it in a hurry, you use any bridge or raft available.

Looking at the immediate political impasse, there’s absolutely no question in my mind who the main villain in this badly-scripted soap-opera melodrama is. LBJ once famously described politics as “the art of the possible.” In a country as large as ours, with its competing and often conflicting constituencies and interests, you get things done by negotiation and compromise. Give some, get some. LBJ, first as Senate majority leader (the position McConnell holds today), then as president (the position Trump holds), was a master at it. McConnell and Trump are his antithetical opposites. They are as uncompromising as a hurricane coming ashore. But McConnell is the lesser evil of the two. He’s merely a shirker. Trump is a destroyer of worlds.

Even though Americans gave Trump’s opponent nearly 3 million more of their votes, he’s never been interested in governing from a middle ground, or willing to give an inch on any issue. As far as he’s concerned, people who don’t support him don’t exist, and deserve nothing from the government we all share. Not even food stamps for their hungry children.

Look at how this distorts our governing system: faced with an economic crisis more severe than anything since the Great Depression, he cares only about being reelected, perpetuating his power, and getting his way. He’s not only heedless of public health and well-being; by politicizing the health and economic crises, he’s made them worse.

So great are his departures from our governing principles, and the constitutional framework of our government that dividends power between the executive and legislative branches, that the viability of our democracy is being tested. In that regard, there’s no choice to be made here. Our ancestors shed their blood to make us a democracy and keep us one. Giving that up without a fight is unspeakable. And the fight is upon us. Trump and his supporters don’t believe in majority rule, or even constitutional boundaries. Playing hardball politics is one thing; not playing by the rules of democracy set out in our Constitution is altogether different.

A large majority of Americans are sensible and decent people. This includes many who vote Republican. I have nothing against Republicans; I’m not one, but I respect honest differences of opinion. Our nation’s greatest strength has always been its shared sense of purpose. None of us should want one-party government. We must go back to a system of healthy political competition operating through negotiation and compromise. If we had that now, we’d have another relief bill, not one that satisfies everyone, but way more than nothing, which is where Trump and McConnell have taken us. Pelosi and Schumer, too, can share some of the blame if you buy my argument above that they should yield for the moment because the future is theirs. But theirs is small blame.

Trump isn’t a skilled politician. He’s a fraud. He touts himself as a rule-breaker, but when was that ever a good thing? Do you teach your children to lie, cheat, and bully others? You won’t get a functioning government by voting for him or the cowardly Republican politicians who’ve done his bidding against their better judgment. You’ll get more of the dysfunction we saw this week, when Republicans walked away because Democrats gave up some of what they were bargaining for instead of all of it.

All Americans, especially Republicans — who, thanks to Trump, now face voter rejection and electoral disaster — will be better off if Republicans tear down their party and rebuild it from the ground up, without Trump and his toxic totalitarianism.

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  1. Mark Adams #

    Only baseball could save us. In a year with no fans at National games US members could not get together and enjoy some Dogs and Suds. Baseball could have gotten this deal through. Guess we will have to depend on the Capitals perhaps not the best examples for our leaders in Washington. Definitely no WWE for our pols unless they are going to be in the ring. Pelosi and McConnell would be highly entertaining though, they might even actually get off script and wrassle.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Baseball is a fabulous metaphor for many aspects of life, and Yogi Berra is one of the great philosophers of all time in my estimation, but no baseball team can save us from the crises we’re in, any more than the orchestra on the deck of the Titanic could save its passengers.

  3. Mark Adams #

    Assuming there is truth to what you are saying about Trump the best the Democratic party could pull out of a hat was Biden? Not boldness like going with oh Sanders or Warren?

    By the way the founders were afraid of Democracy for good reasons and we are a Republic.

    The health crises is all about panic and the economic crises comes out of that panic, and is of our democratic politicians creating that crises. Should it ever come out that there was Democratic collusion in creating a economic crises from a pandemic Democrats will be reminded of the years of reconstruction.

  4. Roger Rabbit #

    For many voters, it’s a question of who will do a better job of managing the crises now engulfing America, and a steadily growing number are choosing Biden. The republic created by the founders envisioned majority rule with protections for the minority, not ham-fisted rule of the majority by a dictator who ignores checks and balances or by a minority faction.

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