Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ornstein and Mann Updated

Non-partisan Congressional scholars Norm Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute) and Thomas Mann (Brookings Institute) update their diagnosis of government dysfunction in The Washington Post.

Fast forward to 2016. Incredibly, Republican destructiveness  is even worse than it was four years ago and the party is paying for it with a surge of anti-establishment populism that is tearing apart its coalitional base.

Parts of our 2012 diagnosis were widely recognized and supported by scholarly research. As our political parties became more ideologically distinct and competitively balanced in their electoral struggle to control the White House and Congress, they took on the characteristics of their parliamentary counterparts: internally unified and fiercely oppositional. But parliamentary-like parties in a presidential or separation-of-powers system — one prone to divided government and clashing mandates — are a formula for willful obstruction and policy irresolution.

It is the radicalization of the Republican party — not just in terms of ideology but also in an utter rejection of the norms and civic culture underlying our constitutional system — that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades. Tribal politics fueled by partisan and social media leaves us with a good vs. evil view of democracy and a visceral hatred of the opposition party.

Today, incredibly, it’s even worse than it was. Continuing to fan the flames of hatred of Obama, Republican leaders openly acknowledged that little if anything of consequence would be considered by Congress during the last year of President Obama’s term, then trashed long-standing precedents by refusing to schedule the traditional hearings at which the Administration presents its budget or to even consider any presidential nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

The spectacle of a political system with politicians unable to work together — thanks to McConnell and his House counterparts — contributed to a populist, anti-establishment wave, a contempt for the status quo that hit both parties but with far more resonance among Republicans. For the entirety of this year’s presidential campaign, anti-establishment, outsider candidates have garnered between 60 and 70 percent support among Republican voters. Donald Trump, America’s equivalent of European right-wing populists and possibly the most miscast presidential front-runner for a major party in American history, makes a mockery of the Republican establishment agenda and presages the GOP’s possible break-up. It is a self-inflicted wound, but one with disastrous consequences for us all.

The most promising route to a healthier democracy and less dysfunctional government almost certainly runs through the electoral process. Yet democratic accountability is not easily achieved during a period of polarized parties, divided government and hotly contested national races on an ever-diminishing competitive terrain,  especially when that process is rigged to prevent decisive outcomes. The Trump disaster, especially if it leads to a Democratic sweep of the 2016 elections, may provide the basis for a major rethinking and realignment of a deeply dysfunctional Republican Party.

Then again, it may not.

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