How Bad Is It?

Two of the most clear-eyed and knowledgable observers of the American legislature have once again weighed in on the disaster that is the current Congress.

In the New York Times Sunday Review, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein explained how the Republicans “broke Congress.”

In the past three days, Republican leaders in the Senate scrambled to corral votes for a tax bill that the Joint Committee on Taxation said would add $1 trillion to the deficit — without holding any meaningful committee hearings. Worse, Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security

Eleven years ago, we published a book called “The Broken Branch,” which we subtitled “How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.” Embedded in that subtitle were two assumptions: first, that Congress as an institution — which is to say, both parties, equally — is at fault; and second, that the solution is readily at hand. In 2017, the Republicans’ scandalous tax bill is only the latest proof that both assumptions are wrong.

Mann and Ornstein are blunt: today’s Republicans are to blame for destroying Congressional integrity and credibility. They point to three tactics that have brought us to this point: the constant demonization of government and the norms of lawmaking; the so-called “Obama effect”; and the use of the right-wing media echo chamber to keep their “troops” enraged.

As they described the “Obama effect”

When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.

My only quibble with this analysis is the use of the term “undercurrent.” From my vantage point, the racism was anything but subtle. And as numerous people have pointed out, Trump’s only discernible agenda is to reverse anything and everything his black predecessor did. Unlike many observers, however, Mann and Ornstein do not see Trumpism as a deviation from past GOP priorities and practices:

Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.

Perhaps the most important point they make is that the chaos and incompetence of this White House, and the elimination or reduction of important government functions by disastrous cabinet and agency appointments, is being encouraged and enabled by Congressional Republicans.

The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy. A few Republican senators have spoken up, but occasional words have not been matched by any meaningful deeds. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

We have never suggested that Democrats are angels and Republicans devils. Parties exist to win elections and organize government, and they are shaped by the interests, ideas and donors that constitute their coalitions. Neither party is immune from a pull to the extreme.

But the imbalance today is striking, and frightening. Our democracy requires vigorous competition between two serious and ideologically distinct parties, both of which operate in the realm of truth, see governing as an essential and ennobling responsibility, and believe that the acceptance of republican institutions and democratic values define what it is to be an American. The Republican Party must reclaim its purpose.

What Mann and Ornstein didn’t do in this hard-hitting and absolutely accurate article is tell readers how they are supposed to make the GOP “reclaim its purpose.” For my part, I can only see one way: the GOP must be crushed at the polls in November of 2018. Only a truly massive rejection by American voters will get the message across.

They don’t just need to be beaten; they need to be crushed. And then we all have to pray that democratic and constitutional norms and rational public policies can be salvaged.


  1. And if the gerrymandering and unconstitutional voter suppression continue to work and the Republicans continue to control the government in 2019, then what? Do we all just roll over and say, “Well people, we’ll just have to try harder next time”?

    IMO we are skating toward a cliff; a fall from which will not be recoverable. It is “take the country back in 2018 or else”, and “else” is not some place I want to go.

  2. Mann and Ornstein have defined once again what was. The US is no longer the democracy of their dreams and Roy Moore defines what it is to be an American.

  3. I agree. They have to be CRUSHED. I thought 2016 would be the year. How could any thoughtful person vote for a crazy person like Trump? How I am not sure where we go from here. A start: REGISTER voters NOW. Do not wait for the elections to get close.

  4. The book ends on a more positive note, but it warns that we must be vigilant and participate. A recent Op-Ed in the NYT by Kashana Cauley (@kashanacauley) an African-American woman television and freelance writer perfectly describes my current feelings. I have never felt so patriotic. And that feels strange for an aging hippie. Reagan’s exhortation that “government is not the solution; government is the problem” always felt dangerous.

  5. It will b difficult to CRUSH Republicans when the TV spews out expensive propaganda at every commercial break

  6. The entire Republican party’s lies and “deconstruction” of our government, all of their sins, are “hidden in plain sight” for all to see. But; unlike “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the millions of us shouting that Trump is naked is ignored…they currently have all of the votes and all of the money to continue.

    On Facebook this morning I shared my one year ago post that Hillary Clinton had received more votes than any other presidential candidate in the history of this country. Does anyone realize that also means that Donald Trump received more votes AGAINST him than any other presidential candidate in the history of this country? The Republicans and the 1% who own them either don’t see that or they are well aware of their control – and out plight – but continue to “laugh all the way to the bank” and keep on keepin’ on. It is working well for them and is a stronghold against this nation.

    “They don’t just need to be beaten; they need to be crushed. And then we all have to pray that democratic and constitutional norms and rational public policies can be salvaged.”

    Truer words were never spoken; but not since the Revolutionary War, not since the Civil War and not since WWI and WWII (that “wild scene” as Trump calls it), but so far the truth has not begun to set us free from their control.

    Being a novice on many national and worldly affairs; how can Trump’s decision to move our Israeli embassy (a building) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem also decide for them the capital of Israel? He has once again taken an international action, against national and international policies, to set other nations against us. How can we “crush” the Republican party when we cannot even maintain our voting rights, make our own health care decisions (IF we can afford them) or love whomever we choose?

  7. If we maintain our present trajectory we will win big in 2018. It appears we will be able to retake the House (with all the gerrymandering and other voter suppression) and perhaps even the Senate. Voters are aroused, especially and rightly, women. It will come down, as usual, to turnout.

    People are talking as if the election is eleven months away and so it is, but the politics of choice of candidates and our platform principles are only a few months away. We have work to do and must not allow ourselves to be caught up in dissension that Republicans are sure to seed among us since they don’t have the votes to win and the demographics are increasingly in our favor both now and post-2018. This is an opportunity to blunt Trumpism and reinstate some ethics into the legislative process and we dare not blow it as a continuation of our democracy (tattered as it is) may well depend upon winning – and winning big.

  8. If only there were an alternative party with a substantive platform for fundamental systemic reform of US elections and lobbying. But, alas, there is not as the Dems are just as beholden to the current system, although they have not (yet) descended to the same low-level tactics as the Rethugnicans.

  9. We can either have capitalism for racists (GOP) or capitalism for Wall Street (DNC).

    Heck of a choice.

    Both political parties comprising the institution are corrupted beyond repair. Like with the free markets, it’s a win at any cost to preserve the status quo for our donors (Ruling Class).

    The CEO for Goldman Sachs recently tweeted that our economy was strong, “…so why do we have all this political unrest?”

    Completely out of touch with the American people. The Ruling Class has used their wealth and influence to ensure both parties work for them. They could care less about the American people. As long as we consume and work, they don’t care.

    The anti-government crowd have middle and high school educations and Fox News makes it simple for them. Liberals are bad. Government is bad.

    The problem is the DNC offers no options for the American people. Why do they hesitate with free health care, guaranteed income, housing options, and converting all the private sector monopolies into publicly owned utilities?

    Because the DNC is also corrupted with industry money and billionaire’s dollars.

    We keep thinking we live in a democracy. We don’t. The press doesn’t work for us and neither does the government. Both institutions belong to the Ruling Class.

  10. Patrick; a third party would result in all elections with a three-way split. Would we go with the party with more than half the votes or the highest number for one party? The latter would mean a government that starts out with 2/3 of the nation against it. We had a four-party system again in 2016; Gary Johnson proved to be unqualified during his public speeches and press conferences and Jill Stein was arrested for painting a bulldozer. Both the Libertarians (against government) and the Green Party have limited issues they are interested in and what is currently tearing this country apart would be ignored by both parties as they concentrated on ending as much government as possible or saving trees. Those who did vote for those parties often didn’t want to vote for Hillary or Trump and thought they could prevent the election of either or both of them by going voting for the other two…or not voting at all. A three party system is not the answer but would only cause more questions to arise.

  11. I said it from the beginning of Trump’s campaign…HE is who THEY are. He is NOT an aberration of their gang, he is the purified, condensed version of the Republican Party. He is their IDEAL candidate for the final march to a true oligarchy. I give not ONE inch, NOT ONE to the Repubs who claim naivete…that Trump took over their party. No. No, they’ve been headed this way for deacades and the Obama presidency scared the hell out of white men with money…”My God a black man can get elected? This is the white man’s last stand! We’ve only got one chance to save the country for our kind.” And Democrats indeed have not been saints for sure, but the reigns are clearly held by Republicans now and this is theirs to manage, to own. It’s easy to be lulled into a sense of security that the constitution, because it’s written on paper, can hold its own Integrity. That is simply not true. The Constitution is only as good as the people who hold it in their hands. That would be our current congress and that should scare the hell out of you. If the Republicans are not strongly rebuked in 2018 as Sheila suggests, we may well have lost the country. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but for whatever ghasps we’ve uttered at the absurdity to date, I believe we’ve not seen anything yet. Get every unregistered voter signed up…it’s our only hope.

  12. Many of the unregistered voters in my neighborhood would vote for DJT if given the option. When I remind them that they need to register, they usually laugh and tell me they are happy with the way things are. They feel no need to “get involved”. The reasoning is so disconnected from the train roaring down the tracks headed in their immediate direction that it confirms the notion of willful ignorance. Unfortunately, we all are in the same path as that train.

  13. The Trumpet and Roy Moore in Alabama represent the distilled concentrate of the Republican Party. The dog whistles and the whispers have been put away the Trumpet and the Roy Moore types are now using a Boom Box. Ex Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (pardoned by the Trumpet) told ABC News he was “strongly considering” mounting a run, and also told the Daily Beast Thursday that he wanted to take retiring Jeff Flake’s seat.

    Down in Alabama the Republicans have used all their heavy artillery – Evangelicals, NRA, militarism and appealing in general to the build the wall types.

    As long as the Democratic Party is under the collective thumbs of Corporate AmeriKa, and puppets like Pelosi, Feinstein, Shumer and the DNC the Democrats will have few issues to run on. With Al Franken leaving the Senate a logical Progressive choice to complete his term would be Keith Ellison.

    Why Didn’t We Listen to this Guy?: Bernie Sanders on the GOP Tax Plan and Global Oligarchy.

    In 2012, the Tax Justice Network estimated that $21 trillion (TRILLION) dollars was being stashed in offshore tax havens around the world.
    One five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is now “the home” of 18,857 corporations.
    In the United States alone, offshore tax evasion costs our government $166 billion of lost revenue each and every year.

    Sanders points out that, as this administration “works overtime to make this absurd situation even worse at a time when corporations are making record-breaking profits,” one out of five major profitable corporations currently pay nothing in federal income tax.

  14. JM – The art (or science) of politics is a human institution, and like any other human institution, its participants fall short of perfection. I worry about some of our own equating our party with the Republicans because we are going to need all hands on deck come the fall of 2018. True, we are not perfect, but I will put my party’s performances since and including Wilson up against those of the Republicans any day, and whether the two parties resemble one another in certain respects (which they may) doesn’t mean there are not enormous doctrinal differences between them on matters of real substance. So yes, they are political parties and will resemble one another in procedural matters, financing and the like, but the resemblance ends there because with all our warts and blemishes, we are better than they are as measured by our determination to serve America and its people. ( See, for instance, our unanimous nay vote on the so-called “tax cuts and jobs” bill.)

  15. Since that wonderful defender of liberty and justice for all, Paul “Lyin’ Ryan” Ryan has publicly declared that the next item on the Republican Congressional agenda is the dismantling the social safety net which portends the utter destruction of this country as we have known it and as it has existed since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal saved it in the 1930s. Ryan, with his deeply nihilistic views of our society, where the poor are the poor because there something wrong with them and where anyone else that has anything wrong with them, such as congenital diseases from childhood or just being elderly, is poised to literally kill people with his proposed legislative agenda.

    We all have to face the fact, those of us that disagree with Mr. Ryan’s agenda for us, that we’re facing a situation that is tantamount to a war, a war for the very soul of this country. Ryan and his ilk, through legislative action, want to destroy the very social fabric of this country through their totally misguided ideas about basic human fairness and the welfare of the people in this country. The sooner that we realize that between the huge can of worms that the dumbbell in the oval office has opened and what these radical, right wing Republicans want to do to all of us that are not billionaires, the better.

    The rub is, as Todd Smekens alluded to, is that we currently have a national political system and structure that is not responsive to the needs of the average American but instead is geared to the needs of the economic elites of this country. So, when we contemplate which action we want to take and how we want to do it we have to keep in mind that neither national party, nor in their local and state guises, are really geared to actually deliver what we as citizens need from a government that is supposed to be geared to meet our needs.

    The Republicans have clearly lost their minds and given over completely to their billionaire donors and the knucklehead residing in the White House because all they want to do is to remain in power, collect their salaries and their perks, and continue this ugly façade or game they’re all playing amongst themselves. The Democrats appear to be more divided than they ever have been and the DNC and those that work for it remain in the same level of disarray that they exhibited in the campaign held last year. Nothing is really changed and so far all these infrequent pronouncements of working in a cohesive way in a grassroots manner are largely still just talk. While we all tend to get excited by things like the election that was held in Virginia there is still a huge, huge mountain that the Democrats will have to climb to make themselves once again an effective counterweight for the robber baron thinking and policies of the current Republican Party.

    We’re all going to have to look at this as, again, as a war. The very future of this country as its stake and everything that we’ve come to know during our lifetimes of how government delivers support to those in need, legitimate need, is on the verge of being ripped apart by people like Paul Ryan who adhere to moribund ideological positions that have no place in the political discourse of this country. The basic fairness and compassion of the American people, as demonstrated time and time again over its long history, is on the verge of being legislated away and we cannot just sit back and let this happen. Regardless if we’re Democrats, Republicans or Independents we have to work together at some point in order to save this country from of fate that none of us will want and that all of us have the opportunity, if we take it, to change and prevent from happening.

    As has always been the case in this country from its very beginnings the responsibility for protecting what so many have fought for over the last 240 years resides with us. This is a responsibility we cannot shirk or put off since the longer we wait to act the worse off we will all be and that there will be a looming tipping point where what we try to do may be overpowered by what these fools will have already accomplished by then.

  16. ALG: Don’t look! It’s embarrassing! I can’t look either! However bad we thought it was, it’s worse than that. Hope you all caught Rachel’s great work on “Dossier”.

  17. Betty; I missed Rachel last night but, for others who may have missed it or want to watch it again, it will be rerun at 7:00 p.m. this evening. I have it marked so I don’t miss it again.

  18. “In unity there is strength”. I’d like to add a word to this famous quote to make it apropos to the current situation. Only in unity is there strength.

    Whatever the differences are in Americans who remember what got us to the top of the heap they must be temporarily set aside to save the country, the top priority. Once we have a democracy, then we can continue the debate on how to re-establish our claim on being the best democracy. Not before.

    I have no idea what the next year will bring. I see possibilities: nuclear war and economic collapse, but it’s equally possible neither will befall us in the next year. No matter, our actions must be the same; unite against the existential threat.

    Will you join me?

  19. O.K. It isn’t that complicated. Everyone on this blog today cited some aspect of how our democracy is being taken over by right-wing liars and ideologues. It is a coup that is overthrowing our form of government, and it started with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971. In that memo, he literally called on corporate/banking America to fund this overthrow by subverting our education and our media as well as creating the lobbying industry that today overwhelms regulation.

    As Teddy Roosevelt warned over 100 years ago, allowing big money into politics was a formula for disaster. The oligarchs haven’t changed, it’s only their names. The key words and phrases today involve the concept of participation, the action of voting and the pressure we put on our representatives, whether or not they’re listening to us.

  20. JoAnn, Is that Eastern Time for Rachel re-run of “Dossier”? For me, worth watching a third time! Thanks!

  21. I am not sure; we turned back one hour from daylight savings time last month in Indiana.

  22. Betty; feeling rather stupid not knowing what time of day it is, I went to my computer control panel and yes, that is eastern time…lol

  23. I am going to misquote Pete (sorry, but I hope the gist is correct): Republicans want freedom and money and all the ‘goods’life has to offer…so do Demoncrats. The difference is that Democrats want those ‘goods’ for everyone.

    In my own words…there is always a jerk, always. What is importamt to remember is that some (the left, very generally) are trying to do good, but, having a fair share of jerks, they stumble and mess up constantly, blunting or sometimes entirely dooming their efforts. On the other hand, some (the right, generally) are very consistent – they always want it all for themselves and their cronies. Being blessed with dumb jerks and other unintelligencia, they get pretty close but still fail to close the deal. Thus, as responders to this blog strongly point out, we have not lost our voice nor our room to resist – yet…

    For me, the irony of many on the left accepting holus bolus the 25 plus years of lies about Hillary to the point that they bought into her supposed un fitness, is close to too much to bear. I want to channel Ann Landers and yell, «wake up! Smell the coffee!» before devolving into less polite observations. We all know, this miss-information is how the right operates. We should be ashamed for falling for any of it.

    If I had one wish for this current mash up of ideology, greed and naivite, I’d wish for each of us to Understand and operate with the messy, mixed up, nearly unmanageable reality that purity is an ideal, not an operable idea. Pursue it, certainly, but do not halt progress on the reasonable and helpful because their sticky bits hang up on the purity filter.

    My metaphors are getting very sloppy. Science may be the art of the soluble, but politics is definitely the art of the possible and we should forgive ourselVes and others and get to work.

    Thanks, again, for listening!

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