We the People: In praise of the smoke-filled room?

It is time to examine the way we used to do things in our political system and reevaluate some of the practices in order to repair our ineffectual government.

Our political system, to a large extent, is broken because of the emotional and divided political climate in the United States. This climate makes it impossible even to address the difficult problems the dysfunction has engendered.

We must bridge the gap between the political “sides” and between abstract political theory and practical political activity. Unfortunately, anger and frustration cloud the political climate and voters get angry with politicians as well as with idea of political compromise.

Mr. Trump won the presidential race because he was not a politician. In fact, he is not even a Republican! Mr. Trump registered as a Republican in 1987 but before that he was an independent, then, a Democrat, and, then, a Republican. He has said, “I do not wish to enroll in a party.”

The desire to forsake the party system reflects an anti-establishment sentiment that lifted him to victory. It gives America a president with no political alliances and no party loyalty.
He claims this assures his independence but it only assures an independence from concern for the consequences of his actions. He is only responsible to Twitter or Facebook. He has no compunction. which is great when you are a conduit for the nation’s negative, anti-establishment sentiments.

However, he is the president of the United States of America! Mr. Trump is a mere weathervane which whips to and fro propelled by the different demands of the discontented and disheartened in America. He should be serving all Americans.’

Paul Ryan, when he took over as speaker of the House, lamented that the American people “look at Washington and all they see is chaos. What a relief to them it would be if we finally got our act together.”

Mr. Trump was elected because chaos is now ensconced in our political system. It is fostered by a preference for political rhetoric over political action.

Our political system is stalled because voters are driven to expect instant gratification and instantaneous communication. As long as the president sounds good, he does not have to be good. It is time to look backward.

In the old days, local leaders of political parties would act as intermediaries between the “system” and the public information, organization or assistance needed. Americans  demonize political professionals and political parties but that system was able to get things done for them.

There were abuses and problems with the party system but that could be controlled with some reform. Without political parties and congressional committees, it is unlikely that politicians would be capable of getting organized to accomplish anything at all.           

The political party system can be undemocratic and secretive, but it created a mechanism for coordination, cooperation and accountability. The accountability of political leaders to the party officials as well as to the public discouraged antisocial and self destructive political behavior.

The inability to debate and to compromise is the most significant factor in our current dysfunction. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote in 2014, “The lack of opportunities for honest dialogue and creative give-and-take lies at the root of today’s dysfunction.” Chaos has taken control of the process and that makes it impossible to govern.  

The frustration has pushed our political preferences toward populists and strong individuals. We now deal with ideological polarization, the ascendancy of social media and the radicalization of Republican and Democratic voters who now eschew their own parties.

When radicals on both sides of the political spectrum are given a free hand, we inherit government dysfunction, which increases public anger, giving additional political fodder to the zealots and demagogues who merely stymie political cooperation.   

Can the problem be addressed? There is no easy fix for the current communication and cooperation dysfunction in our political system. Limits on political spending still are needed. Citizens United must be reevaluated.

We need regular Americans to become involved in the political party process. This would alleviate some of the visceral hostility to politicians and political parties.

We need citizens to examine the political process and not to embrace negativism. The most pressing political problem today is to get citizens to work on improving the establishment instead of forsaking it.

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