Hello again, my friends.
Another ‘President’s Day’, still in the grip of The Pandemic and a massive winter storm that has blanketed the center of this nation from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. I wanted to talk about a different ‘storm’ today, though, one less obvious but still no less traumatic.
Our lives anymore consist of an overlapping series of ‘cusps’; points at which things hang in the balance and only time tells- sooner or later- which way matters shall fall. It is for societies as it is in our personal lives. In the past year or so, while in the teeth of a Pandemic whose continuing progress still affects our lives in ways nothing else in living memory has, we here in the United States have teetered on a cusp also unprecedented in memory or experience.
Our legislative body- the House and Senate, composed of our elected Representatives and Senators- has been wrapped up in an activity (in two acts) for which it is unsuited to decide or resolve, and for which was not designed to handle. Twice a sitting President has been accused of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ by the House, and twice acquitted of the charges by the Senate. Without disappearing down the rathole of whether the individual is guilty (whatever the Hell THAT means anymore) or even culpable of the charges presented before our legislative body, I feel that there are a few basic things about the entire affair which need unpacked.
We routinely experience a disconnect, both thematically and paradigmatically, between the ‘inputs’ of our political system and that system’s ‘outputs’. ‘We The People’, the true customers and stakeholders in our political process here in the United States, deliver a series of inputs to our Government via the people we elect as our Representatives (the Congress and the Senate) to- in theory- join together to make our will known by writing and voting on laws to thus decide public policy. We desire that the outputs of this system reflect the political will of ‘We The People’, or at least in aggregate of those who vote for said Representatives, to reflect in the legislation and decisions that they make to be the law of the land, for ‘Us’.
Two things have become abundantly clear over the past few years, though they have been apparent for decades. First, the ‘inputs’ we give to our elected Representatives (both in Congress and the Senate) don’t translate well into what we WANT as citizens; and I realize that because we are a pluralistic society those ‘inputs’ are often at contretemps, especially given the extreme level of polarization evident among us over the past three decades or so.
Second, and more tellingly, the ‘outputs’ we receive are even MORE different and distant from the ‘inputs’ desired by ‘We The People’ with each passing year. Legislation by compromise is the best possible outcome any of ‘Us’ can hope for even without a divided electorate, which itself is inefficient and not wholly satisfying to ANYONE; but our system of government was not designed to be either nimble nor wholly satisfying to all- merely something we’ve agreed to live with given our pluralistic society.
Nonetheless, in days gone by (before the 1990’s, let’s say; for the sake of argument) most of us could grumble and say that at least WE got a few of the things we wanted; progressives could get a few incremental policy changes in return for the conservatives among us retaining a measure of political and economic stability. No one ever came away from the table with a pure win, but no one got totally shut out, either. In the days before ‘wedge issues’ and ‘single platform’ candidates took over the political landscape, that was usually enough.
Things are MUCH different now.
Politics here are now more like a suicide pact where the party having the majority in the Legislature- or the allegiance of the current President- either ‘doubles down’ on their most radical policies to ram them past their opponents or signs executive orders to enact sweeping changes (or nullify those made by the last party’s President) as quickly as possible before the next election sweeps out the current party in favor of the other one. The fact that there are only two political parties in the United States is a matter I may discuss in a later blog . . .
In Engineering and Quality Control, my professional background, we would call this a process in the grips of ‘positive feedback’. And all of us in those professions know the eventual fate of such a process, running under such inputs. It oscillates more and more wildly until it exceeds all controls on the process and eventually ‘crashes’. Economists also know this situation, as do historians . . . and it has happened before, with predictably disastrous results.
One last thing I’d like us to remember is that politics, as an endeavor, is NEVER about ‘who is RIGHT’ or ‘who is WRONG’; it is solely dedicated to obtaining power and retaining it by whatever means are necessary. That’s the rub of any democratic society; even a titular ‘republic’ like the United States with its layers of insulation from ‘mob’ voting and a system of checks and balances (the ‘controls’ I mentioned) has to be wary of the politicians and other factions hijacking the political process for their own gains. Or passing laws to ensure the ease of such assumption of power, whether for themselves of for those interests wishing to more easily move wealth from the poor and middle class up to the extremely rich. Both progressive and conservative elements are easily and equally wooed by these interests.
So let’s be careful, friends. Be wary of promises too good to be true; be mistrustful of those who would inflame ‘wedge issues’ and opposition-based partisan politics; and always at first and last think about what YOU are being offered versus its cost to our nation as a whole. Democracy is the MOST expensive form of government, and it requires the greatest level of oversight from its citizens to function properly. It is the also form that most easily and quickly devolves into either oligarchy, tyranny or anarchy. Let’s remember the lessons learned by those who have gone before us, and avoid learning them ourselves- yet again- the HARD way.
Keep striving, friends.