If All Your Friends Jumped Off A Cliff, Would You Jump Too?

My mother used to throw that line at me when I protested that “all the kids” were doing whatever it was she disapproved of.  Despite promising myself that I would treat my children differently–I used that same line with mine. It made a point.

Let’s face it–we all know that just because your co-worker is stealing from the till doesn’t give you a pass to do likewise.

That homely truth applies even more urgently to our political system. One of the reasons so many of us are so concerned (okay, frantic) about the current willingness of the GOP to ignore time-honored norms–to “play dirty”– is that damaging behaviors by one party are too often seen by the other party as permission to act just as badly.

As I have repeatedly maintained, the nation needs two responsible, ethical, adult political parties. When one party is off the rails, it’s harder for the other party to maintain discipline and enforce ethical and responsible behavior.

Time Magazine recently made that point. 

The article pointed to incidents in which Senate Democrats ignored longstanding norms during the recent Kavanaugh hearings. I will admit that I cheered many of those norm-breaking efforts; after all, we stand to lose a half-century of settled jurisprudence that has expanded and confirmed individual rights if this partisan warrior is confirmed, but it’s hard to argue with Time’s observation that the behaviors of Senators Harris, Booker and Warren, among others, was inconsistent with the decorum and comity we expect in such hearings.

The article wasn’t a hatchet job on the Democrats; far from it. It conceded that the relatively minor deviations of the Democrats during the hearings paled in comparison to the daily offenses perpetrated by the occupant of the Oval Office:

After all, this is a president who argued a judge couldn’t be fair because of his Mexican ancestry, criticized a Gold Star family, called for violence against protesters, threatened to jail his opponent, declined to release his tax returns,hired his daughter and son-in-law to work in the White House, declined to disentangle himself from a D.C. hotel and other businesses,conducted official business from his private golf club, chastised his own attorney general for allowing investigations into himand two Republican lawmakers, repeatedly called reporters “the enemy of the people”and regularly attacked the FBI and the judiciary.

The point of the article was not to castigate the Democrats’ newly aggressive behavior; the point was to identify an undeniable problem: once partisans start down this path, with each side justifying inappropriate behavior by the equivalent of “well, he started it!” we are in danger of losing critically important, if unwritten, rules that safeguard reasoned democratic deliberation and make government accountable.

In his speech on September 7th, former President Barack Obama called on Democrats to show up at the polls in November and restore “honesty and decency and lawfulness” to government– to take the high road back to power. Obama is urging Democrats to play fair despite the fact that neither the President nor his GOP has shown any interest in playing by the rules.

During the Obama Administration, a Republican in the House shouted that the president was a liar during a State of the Union while the grassroots — including then private citizen Trump — spread conspiracy theories about his birth certificate. Republicans in the Senate blocked his judicial nominees at a higher rate, leading then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to change the Senate rules to end the filibuster on most nominees. Republicans then refused to vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, then ended the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees to allow Trump to appoint Neil Gorsuch.

The real test will come when Democrats return to power (hopefully after the upcoming midterm elections). If they decide to exact revenge by acting as dishonorably as the GOP has acted, we may well see an ugly race to the bottom and a further erosion of civility and  willingness to work together to get the people’s business done. As the Times article concluded:

One day, Trump will no longer be in office, but by then it may be that breaking norms is the new normal.

If the Democrats jump off that cliff just because the Republicans jumped before them, we will all be the real losers.


  1. At the root of our problems is entertainment media borne extremism which organized the bitter, the angry, those light in civic literacy and yes, the deplorables, into a formidable army of extremists. America had traditionally avoided extremism because we knew that what it breeds is only extremism to counter it.

    Now we have extremists on both the right and left slugging it out and nobody solving problems. That may or may not be curable.

    Despite that, we are stuck with a symptom with the name of Trump who has screwed up everything for everyone right and left, extremist and problem solver.

    It took a process to get us here and it will take a process to get us out of here.

    The process: encapsulate the Executive Branch with a hostile Legislative Branch by only voting only D’s on Nov 6. That won’t solve any problem but it will slow or halt the progression of the disease.

    In 2020, after getting to know the Presidential Candidates, go back to reasoned selection of the middle of the road President who can operate effectively in both the world we will leaving behind and the world we are evolving to.

    The process will be slow and ponderous as always but gentle pressure relentlessly applied will turn the ship back to a future orientation rather than chasing the long gone past.

  2. Vernon and Marv,
    I always look forward to your imput on this blog. There are pony races every summer in the small northern Indiana town where I live. A young couple sat down during the national anthem and a older fellow found them after the races. He told them if they didn’t like this country then leave and if he ever seen them do it again they could find themselves under white sheets. What pitching combination would you suggest in this situation?

  3. Jerry,

    The peaceful person would say, “intentional walk”. Me? I’d put one in his earhole.

  4. Jerry,

    “Vernon and Marv….What pitching combination would you suggest in this situation?”

    I’m a little more peaceful than Vernon, I would first “dust him off.” He would probably think, I wouldn’t do it again. So I would “dust him off” for the second time in a row; And then, await his arrival at the pitching mound, knowing that I have [had] an astounding right hook, and, at least, will be able to argue self defense at any hearing, I might be forced to attend.

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