Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Week of Explanation 3: Why Can't We All Get Along Anymore

One of the great questions of the age is why can't Republicans and Democrats get along anymore.  And, surprise surprise, it isn't just Republicans' fault.

Here is the thing, Bipartisan legislating happens when 1 of 3 factors is in play. And none is in play now.

First - Overwhelming Majority

Bipartisanship worked from the 1930s through the 1960s because the Republicans were at a huge disadvantage in both Houses of Congress. If you have a permanent majority party (in that case it was Democrats), then Republicans have a vested interest in bipartisanship to either get what they want included in Democratic legislation OR remove what they can in Democratic legislation. 

Obstruction is a losing game if it means getting NONE of what you want in a system like that. Bipartisanship means that maybe some of your ideas get through.

But IF the parties are narrowly divided (like now), compromise often means you lose your seat to a more "pure" member of your party.

Second - Heterogeneous Membership

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the parties themselves were made up of a diverse membership. There were liberal Republicans (say Governor Nelson Rockefeller or Gerald Ford or even Richard Nixon with regards to the environment) and conservative Democrats (Robert Bryd or Strom Thurmond or John Connally).

This started to change in the 1960s as Lyndon Johnson (another Conservative Democrat from Texas) passed Civil Rights legislation. Conservative Democrats rebelled but the legislation was forced through by President Johnson and the liberal members of both parties.

Conservative Democrats, particularly in the South where Jim Crow laws were being overturned, decided to leave the Democratic Party for the more reactionary Republican Party. Liberal voters - particularly in the North East - both Democratic and Republican started moving towards the less reactionary (some might say less racist) Democratic Party.

Now there are no Liberal Republicans. And, despite what we think of Joe Manchin, no Conservative Democrats. Hence, less members pushing bipartisanship.

Third - The Lack of an External Threat

From the late 1940s until 1989, Communism was a unifying enemy. The threat of nuclear war outweighed petty arguments about the size of national parks or what horrible thing MJG or AOC might say.

We still see this in the rare cases of bipartisanship now. BOTH sides recently passed a bill to make us more competitive with China - who we see as a threat to Capitalism. Both sides usually agree on anti-terrorism bills.

Oddly, the Republicans under President Trump (and never until President Trump) have made Russia a partisan issue. They trust Russia now more than our own intelligence agencies. And Israel (via their Prime Minister Netanyahu) has made Israeli support MORE partisan by fucking with Barak Obama and (metaphorically) giving a blow job to Romney and then Trump.

Next Steps

I cannot see a way past this now. If Republicans did not object to Russia supporting Trump both publicly and clandestinely, then there is no common "external threat". As Republicans and Democrats have separated into camps that can't even talk anymore I don't see a drive for bipartisanship. As for overwhelming support for one or the other side, BOTH parties have agreed, via gerrymandering and corporate donations, to pretty much divide us up to make safe their seats are safe.

So there you go. We're fucked unless a new threat comes out to unite us.

Possible Solution (Bad Though It Is)

One possible break through would be the introduction of a pure Populist. That is, someone who could appeal to the disenfranchised on both the Left and Right. And here is where Donald Trump was politically savvy. He did not really campaign in 2016 as Republican. He as more a populist who said he could bring cheaper universal health care. He said he could remove graft and corruption in Washington. He said he would spend $1trillion on infrastructure jobs. None of those are particularly Republican positions. He promised to stop letting foreigners take American jobs.

His failure was that he didn't GOVERN as a populist. Those first 3 promises were completely lost. Instead he left the work of governing to Republican insiders who passed tax-cuts, tried to overturn the Affordable Care Act and didn't even propose an Infrastructure bill.

So, could a more honest populist win and govern? Maybe. But the more scary idea is that a smarter authoritarian would be able to pretend to be a populist and actually take over the country. We know that Republicans wouldn't lift a bill to stop him.

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