I am convinced that the biggest problem America faces– the reason we can’t solve or even address the other multiple problems that grow worse each day they are ignored–is the GOP.
Permit me to share some observations that support that thesis.
Paul Krugman–Nobel winning economist and opinion writer for the New York Times —took on the “reliably awful” Ted Cruz and his anti-gun-legislation GOP cohort, including Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, whose “solution” involved locking school doors rather than controlling firearms. (Patrick has obviously never talked to a Fire Marshall..) As Krugman and literally hundreds of others remind us,
Mass shootings are very rare outside the United States. Why are they so common here? Not, according to the U.S. right, because we’re a nation where a disturbed 18-year-old can easily buy military-grade weapons and body armor. No, says Patrick, it’s because “We’re a coarse society.”
I know it’s a hopeless effort to say this, but imagine the reaction if a prominent liberal politician were to declare that the reason the United States has a severe social problem that doesn’t exist elsewhere is that Americans are bad people. We’d never hear the end of it. But when a Republican says it, it barely makes a ripple….
What distinguishes us is that it’s so easy for people who aren’t nice to arm themselves to the teeth.
What also distinguishes us are outmoded rules of governance that allow representatives of a minority of citizens to block action supported by the majority. (Recent polling by Pew and others tells us that ninety percent of Americans want stricter gun regulations, especially more stringent background checks.)
It isn’t just gun safety. Republican senators routinely object to pretty much anything proposed by the majority or by the Biden Administration. I get absolutely livid when people complain that “Biden isn’t doing anything.” These are people who clearly have no idea how easy it is for Republicans to block administrative measures. One recent example, reported by Daily Kos:
When Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) came to the floor Wednesday afternoon to ask for unanimous consent to approve Dr. Shereef Elnahal to serve as the Veterans Affairs deputy secretary for health and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) objected, Tester blew, telling Scott: “You want to talk about why the American people think the United States Senate is dysfunctional? The senator from Florida could look in the mirror.”
Elnahal had impeccable credentials–he’s currently the chief executive officer of University Hospital in Newark. Furthermore, he’d had a hearing in the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and been approved unanimously. As Tester pointed out, the need to have the position filled is urgent. “The VA is continuing to battle the impact of COVID-19 pandemic with veterans cases, hospitalizations, and death on the rise again, and VA staff are dealing with burnout and increasing turnover in our VA system.” The job hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed person in it since January 2017.
And what was Scott’s objection? Well, we don’t know, because he refused to say. (Of course, Elnahal is brown…) But under Senate rules, and thanks to the Memorial Day recess, his objection will delay a vote until sometime in late June.
And don’t get me started on the filibuster…..
I am thinking about the ways that narrow, destructive factions can capture the counter-majoritarian institutions of the American system for their own ends. I am thinking of how they can then use the levers of government to impose their vision of society and civil life against the will of the majority. And I am thinking of this in the context of guns, gun violence and the successful movement, thus far, to make the United States an armed society.
Two weeks ago, a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo. Three days ago, a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Although there has been, in the wake of both atrocities, the requisite call for new gun control laws, no one believes that Congress will actually do much of anything to address gun violence or reduce the odds of gun massacres. The reason is that the Republican Party does not want to. And with the legislative filibuster still in place (preserved, as it has been for the past year, by at least two Democratic senators), Senate Republicans have all the votes they need to stop a bill — any bill — from passing.
I am old enough to remember when Republicans and Democrats had good-faith, substantive disagreements about the proper way to address national problems. Those days are long gone–and so is the time when currently-obsolete Senate rules and procedures served any legitimate legislative purpose.
Go re-read Pastor Pavlovitz’ warning. And help get out the vote.