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We have a problem with our federal government, but it’s not exactly the one we’re used to thinking about. Frankly, we don’t want to think about it all – better to deny the reality entirely. Easier to lie and lie and lie, and blame our problems on everyone else. Easier to blame Liberals, or Wokesters, or (the current favorite among the increasingly reality-averse folks who still cannot face that Trump has immolated himself once and for all time) traitors and sabotage. It is, of course, all lies. Mind you, lies can be useful – especially when trying to avoiding hurt feelings (our own not the least), but they’re still lies. At one time rebellions against ruling monarchs favored the lie “We’re not really rebelling against the King, he’s just the victim of bad advisors.”
The lie we all tell ourselves today is that we are the helpless victims of “The DC Establishment” (or whatever other term you want to use). Synonyms for this include “Wall Street,” “Big Tech,” and a host of others. They are the “bad advisors” we blame for manipulating Congress, for stealing elections, or for disloyalty to Trump (fact check here: the only consistent disloyalty in the Trump administration came from Trump – watching his cabinet members go from vaunted heroes to filthy traitors and sellouts in the commentariat was much akin to studying Soviet photography for disappearing faces alongside Stalin). We are very good at lying to ourselves about why Trump lost this or that political battle, about why Congress is a dysfunctional mess, and about why the “authoritarian ratchet” is inexorable. The truth we cannot confront about it is all is simple, and we all bear the shame of it. We do not really want any of our congress critters, our president, or our courts to lead us out of our morass, we want them to follow us into the pit of our own making. And follow they blithely do.
Why should anyone really attempt to lead? Why should anyone take any campaign rhetoric seriously? I’m not even speaking for the Left here, I’m just talking about the entire right half of the political spectrum. Think of all that we demand:
Repeal Obamacare! But get me my pills cheap! And you’d better not slash Medicare because Granny will be out on the street! Cut my taxes! But don’t touch Social Security, that’s my retirement! Slash regulations! But raise the minimum wage! And punish those rich Wall Street fat cats! No more bailouts! But bail out small businesses! No more stimulus checks… after the next one (and send a chaser too)!
Any time anyone in Congress actually tries to show real leadership he gets savaged. Paul Ryan was sent to Congress and proclaimed a hero as a fiscal wonk. Paul Ryan is now disgraced as a heartless fiscal wonk. Well? Which is it? He was the same Paul Ryan that entered as left – the truth is he violated the will of the voters, and the will of the voters is that the gravy train run to them, but not to other people they don’t like. We hailed the Tea Party a decade ago for demanding fiscal accountability, and then it all wilted when we realized everyone would take a hit, not just the “bad guys”. We wailed about Obama’s fiscal profligacy, then ignored Trump’s (even pre-COVID) because that spending was just better because it went to the right people.
We blame the Republican congress of 2017-2018 for not having a Repeal and Replace plan from Day 1 (nevermind that Trump promised he had his own too – and we never saw any of it). Why would any sane and safe Republican bother to come up with a health care reform plan? Any real plan would gore everyone’s ox, but not equally, and that would be seized on as evidence of favoritism towards whoever was hurt less than someone else – and we would be as happy to denounce it as the Left, just for different reasons. Why bother with specifics? Why bother to stick your neck out? Easier to campaign on an issue and then blame the other side when nothing ever happens later. Keeps the issue alive for a few election cycles, until the voters fixate on something else for a few cycles.
It’s no wonder Congress is stuffed with hacks, charlatans, grifters, sell-outs, and bench warmers. It’s no wonder both parties spend like drunken sailors. It’s no wonder the debt keeps growing and growing – hardly anyone there dares to change the game. When they try, they’re denounced as traitors, or Elitists, or uncompassionate eggheads, or accused of being in some group’s pocket (which, while true, is a problem only because it’s the “wrong” group), and so turfed out. Besides, they know what the voters really want better than the voters themselves: having someone else always around to blame.
It’s no wonder that both sides refuse to actually address electoral reforms too – that’s the gift that keeps giving. That way you never have to take any blame on your side for nominating cultists and loonies. That way you never have to take any blame for running a terrible campaign. Even if you lose, you win! After all, you were cheated! And martyrs are always more beloved than Darwin-award winners, giving you a leg up on fundraising for the next round (that’s where the real money is made – paying your friends and relatives for “consulting fees” while you expense first-class flights). Both sides play the game, and the money rolls in.
The truth of the matter is, Americans of all stripes really do not want reform. They do not want leaders. They do not want any hard choices. They want the status quo, but also want the moral high ground of blaming it on everybody else. And the government they claim to hate so much? It’s just following along. If we really wanted reform, we’d stop blaming the “swamp”, or whatever other excuses we have at hand. Instead, we would admit to ourselves that, like losing weight we are the ones who have to change first.Published in