Sunday, December 18, 2016

Republicans? Self-Regulate? What a Daft Idea!

There's an emergent pattern I'm seeing among many Republicans who by all rights should know the risks of a Trump administration, responding to Democrats expressing concerns over the radical first moves of the Trump administration. It goes like this:
Democrat: "Look at this terrible policy Trump is proposing/terrible nominee Trump has put forward/terrible advisor Trump has installed!"
Republican: "Haha! Bet you wish Reid hadn't abolished the filibuster/Obama hadn't expanded executive power/Clinton hadn't focused on social issues that cost you rust belt seats, don't you?"
Now, we can debate the merits of any of these things. For example, call me crazy but I continue to think that the Senate should generally run on the uncontroversial practice of majoritarian rule. In a democracy, the ultimate check against bad laws should be the people voting in good, civically-spirited legislators. Institutional barriers are important, but no set of norms can create good laws from bad actors. By and large, policies are going to reflect the character of the persons writing the policies -- that's baked into the democratic cake. If 52 GOP Senators mindlessly march in partisan lockstep to rubberstamp the entirety of the Trump agenda, the problem isn't majoritarianism, the problem is that the GOP lacks any principles beyond blind party loyalty.

And that gets to what's really striking about this line of argument: It takes for granted that our choices are either "an empowered Democratic Party" or "Trump gone wild." The idea that Republicans might exercise any meaningful oversight in the Trump administration is too fanciful to even be acknowledged. Again, I'm not sure these people realize exactly who they're insulting here.

Once more, I think this is related to the infantilization of the American right. Right now, it is an article of faith that Republicans simply will serve as the unmediated channels of the right-wing id. The job of Democrats is to act as the Republicans' babysitters -- to guard them from the consequences of their own tantrums. When Democrats are not sufficiently empowered to do that, the problem isn't that Republicans are incapable of self-regulation, it's that Democrats allowed themselves to lose the necessary influence to keep the GOP in check.

From a Democratic vantage point, this perspective makes sense -- our job is to win seats, and when we don't do that, we're doing something wrong. From an external observer's view (especially a Republican's view), it evinces an abdication of personal responsibility and civic duty on behalf of the GOP that should by all rights be shocking.

Would I be happier if the Democratic Party had enough seats in Congress to serve as a robust check on the Trump administration on their own? Obviously! But the thing is, 48 Democratic Senators would do a fine job constraining Trump's excesses if even 4 Republican colleagues joined them. The fact that this possibility doesn't occur to anyone -- even to persons who purported to be on the "Never Trump" train -- is proof of just how far the rot inside the GOP has spread.

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