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.