Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.
Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US. Most recent sense check, Entry #332.
The past few blog entries have been an intentional diversion from the craziness in Washington. This entry puts us back inside the Beltway.
Ever wonder why elected Federal representatives, House and Senate, seem to have no shame? Why some individuals take one position when a Republican is in office and flip-flop when a Democrat is in office?
An extreme example of no shame is Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator of South Carolina. In 2016, when Graham and Trump were Republican presidential candidates, Graham claimed Trump was evil and untrustworthy. The criticism from Graham went far beyond what one would consider normal “campaign talk.”
Once Trump was elected, and after Graham’s guardrail John McCain died, Graham became a die-hard Trump supporter. In the most recent Trump fiasco – threating to withhold approved military aid unless Ukraine investigated a potential Democratic rival, and then trying to squash an investigation — Graham dismissed Trump’s actions as a mere phone call, not worthy of Investigation.
Graham was more than willing to overlook the abuse of power for personal gain, Trump obstructing Congress and then Trump publicly threatening anyone who put country ahead of politics. To Graham, let’s forget the oath to uphold the Constitution he took as a Senator, supporting Trump is more important. One has to wonder if Graham would have taken the same stance if those actions had been taken by a Democratic president.
Another flip-flopper is Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell has been more than willing, with no apparent remorse, to switch his position whether the Senate should have a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee if an election is upcoming within a year or so. When Obama was President, McConnell stated emphatically any hearing for a SCOTUS nominee was out of the question. While Trump has been President such a SCOTUS hearing is imperative and must be done now. Mmm, wonder what Mitch’s position will be on voting on impeachment?
Graham and McConnell are not alone. There are many examples on both sides of the aisle. In the current environment, Republicans seem to hold the edge on shamelessness. In the Trump/Ukraine debacle, among the Senators, the only one who seems to have expressed publicly any concern about Trump’s behavior is Mitt Romney. Might be a coincidence that Romney is not a lawyer but a businessman.
I’m not naive about politics and party loyalty. However I do find troubling a willingness to support party over the Constitution and frankly, what’s right for the country.
Why are these elected officials exhibiting behavior that most of us would never tolerate in the private sector? Have these officials no shame?
My $0.25 analysis? The cause of the behavior, in Yogi Berra terms, is a combination of training and lack of training.
#1 The effect of training. Most Federal Representatives and Senators are lawyers. Lawyers are trained to be able to take multiple stances on a given issue. Successful attorneys, especially defense attorneys, may need to present different sides of an argument depending on the particular situation of and charges against their client. Further, society does not expect attorneys to agree personally with every stance taken in defense of a client. The only expectation of the attorney is to make a fair effort defending the client.
Not being expected to argue a position necessarily consistent with personal beliefs allows attorneys to shift positions back and forth without any concern about consistency in approach. For many lawyers supporting a position without regard to past support of a different position, might seem perfectly normal and part of their everyday activity. However, members of the House and Senate need to put away their lawyer training and remember their oath of office is to uphold the Constitution; not an oath to represent the president of the United States. The president is NOT their client.
#2 The lack of training. The second factor why Congressional reps show no shames could be lack of military service. For lawyers, the effect the lack of military training may be more pronounced than other occupations. For lawyers, there are generally two outcomes, win or lose. There are very few situations where a win-win is a desired outcome.
As anyone who has been in the military knows, two things become evident in basic training. The first is it matters not your background, family wealth, family connections, one’s level of education, etc. During basic training drill instructors treat every trainee exactly the same, like dirt.
The second thing that becomes evident in basic training is the necessity to work in teams. In military training at least early on, the object is not to win or lose but to build a team and learn to work closely with other teams. And you have no choice of what team you’re on. The teams are comprised of people from all different backgrounds and skill levels. Thus, to make any progress, and avoid further harassment by the DI, one needs to learn to cooperate and work with people who are radically different than normal associates.
An example I recall from my own un-storied military career was during advanced training for light infantry. Part of the training included qualifying on a wide range of weapons. The base commander put a challenge out to several larger units training at the camp. If a designated training unit could tie or break an existing scoring record when qualifying with a specific weapon, that group would receive a weekend pass beginning noon Friday. I don’t recall whether we had six or seven weapons to qualify with — pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, etc. — but I do recall our group setting 5 or 6 post records and being able to leave Friday noon.
The records were achieved because we worked together. Most of us had not been in basic training together so there was little many of us had in common other than wanting to get through training and wanting to get a pass starting Friday noon.
Another major incentive to work together and set a base record, although not articulated by the training staff, was the fort’s location. We were stationed at Fort Ord, California, near Carmel and Monterey Bay. Getting out Friday noon would give us enough time to visit Reno, drive Big Sur to Santa Barbara, go to San Francisco and generally have a good time.
Since sending our Congressional reps to Army basic training would be fun to watch, but not really practical, what do we, societal we, do to get our elected officials to begin working more closely with one another? A solution used in private industry that might work is to have Democrats and Republicans participate in team-building exercises. Before legislators began returning to home districts on the weekends, interaction with members of the other party occurred regularly at golf courses, during poker games, and family outings. During that era many reps, spouses and children of both parties were close friends.
Like the idea of basic training, the chances of either party supporting team-building exercises is nil. I cannot imagine how loud Fox News bloviators Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson would scream over such an idea. “Political parties working together? How dare someone suggest cooperation. An effective outcome would ruin our ratings!”
Thus, the only realistic approach seems to be the ballot box. But I think we, again societal we, need to start thinking differently about the importance of elections. To effectuate change, the primary election may be more important than the general election. If we want government to start working again, then we need to start nominating centrist candidates in both parties. We also need to be willing to switch parties if the candidate of one’s preferred party is too extreme.
If your state requires party selection to vote in the primary, then chose Republican or Democrat and vote in the primary. No one’s forcing you to vote a straight ticket in the general election.
The only way we are going to get elected representatives to Congress to start behaving with some consistency and integrity is to nominate people with positions on issues that are good for the welfare of this country, not some small slice of the population. If you look back in US history, the times when the economy was the strongest over time (constant $), when a strong middle class developed (think of “Leave It to Beaver”), when a major portion of society was able to advance in education, and when we had the most support among a wide range of countries worldwide was a time when we had a president and members of both parties working together.
The most disruptive times in US history occurred when there was a major division of the parties. I’m voting for working more closely together.
As a sidebar: One of the reasons I started writing this blog in 2013 was to alert people to what was likely to happen without some major changes in society. While I remain hopeful such changes can occur, my fear is the US will experience another revolution, the Revenge Revolution, before any meaningful change happens. Please prove me wrong.