Solving Dysfunction in Washington

The serial buffoonery that plays out daily in the U.S. House of Representatives pounds the nails of terminal democracy into the coffin of these United States. There is an inability to work together on the most important issues of our time, such as a sustainable economic recovery, environmental degradation, including global climate change, the burgeoning worship of the gun, educational irrelevance on the world stage, and technological supremacy.

Instead this 113th Congress appears predestined, as was the 112th, to legislative ignominy, a parody of true democratic norms. This term began without any work having been done on passing a bill to pay for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey shore.

Even Republican congressional members from the North Eastern states denounced the actions of the House in the strongest terms. Chris Christie laid into his own party to the extent that he was getting criticism from them.

Republicans in the House have indicated that they are going to allow the country to be driven off the economic cliff in pursuit of their ideological goals. They care little about the lasting economic effects of their stance on spending cuts on the citizens of their own country, or the wider implications for the global economy.

As the Republican caucus has become increasingly Southern and mid-Western, and Democrats more North-Eastern and Western, the tone in Washington has become not just combative, but destructive in its vehement attacks on the pillars of social mobility.

Its demands that Social Security and Medicare be cut will ultimately lead to greater and greater calls for the dismantling of these successful programs. This, despite the enormous number of elderly people who are able to survive in turbulent economic times because of these programs.

Corporations have slashed their support for defined benefit pension programs, replacing them with defined contribution plans, using instruments like the 401(k) in which people are expected to invest their own funds. This leads to risky investments in the stock market, often leading to a withering nest egg.

If social security were cut, millions of elderly people would have nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, and many would end up committing suicide or worse. This is not the future that the most advanced nation in history should deliver to their citizens.

To Republicans, whose only vision is to cut spending to the bone, Washington is the problem. As Grover Norquist has said far too often, they want to drown Washington in the bathtub. Clearly, this may well lead ultimately to an anarchic state run by bands of thugs, armed with assault weapons, and local warlords.

We do not have to look too far to see how such a system would work. Countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and increasingly much of Mexico have succumbed to the lure of an armed population and anarchy in which even the military is of little use.

The same goes for countries all over Africa, countries in name only. For the most part these countries are collections of statelets each run by local militia.

With increasing dysfunction in Washington, it is feasible, given time, that such a scenario could play out here. Germany after WWI had a nominal parliamentary system, the Weimar Republic, which was attacked almost from its inception from the left by the Communists, and the right by National Socialists, Nationalists and others.

Ultimately the stresses inherent in a system in which no-one had faith produced an implosion that led to the rise of the National Socialists. The Nazis proceeded to destroy Europe in the most bloody war in history. It is possible that the Communists could have won, and who knows what the result might have been, given Stalin’s murderous predilections.

That is the path down which Republicans are speeding, towards increasing dysfunction, towards a future in which faith in democracy erodes to the point that it will vanish. The results are too ghastly to contemplate. It is a path from which this nation needs to retreat, quickly.

Faith in the political system is tenuous at best. Continual dysfunction in Washington is unlikely to improve people’s perception of the system, which currently rates Congress at 13% approval.

The question is, what can be done to change the process? There are a number of opportunities that may work, but they take time, and time is short.

The first is clear. The electorate needs to make their feelings known and throw the bums out. Republicans quite plainly cannot run the political system in their current incarnation. The rise of the Tea Party is directly linked to the dysfunction in that once august body.

The problem is, the current Congress has only just been re-elected and has another two years to run. There is much damage that can be done to democracy, to the economy, to the environment in the meantime.

The second is to change the Constitution. The current document was drawn up two hundred years ago and was tailored to a nation that did not face the enormous challenges that we face today.

The First Amendment has been perverted to the extent that it is of little meaning. Free Speech is taken to mean almost anything the current Supreme Court wants it to mean. Corporations are endowed with the full rights of living, breathing people, in addition to their corporate rights.

The Citizens United case, which overturned almost all campaign spending regulations, allows corporations to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns, something ordinary people clearly cannot do. Rather than promote the idea of free speech, this inhibits speech by allowing those with limitless funds to dominate speech. If the obstacles to speech are great enough, free speech dies.

The Supreme Court has also ruled that extremely violent video games and movies are allowed under the First Amendment, regardless of the potential impact this may have on young and impressionable minds. Yet, ironically, they allow pornographic laws prohibiting, let’s say underage nudity, to stand. The message is that violence is more acceptable than is nudity. Perhaps we need to review the First Amendment, and place reasonable restrictions on speech, including both violent video games and underage nudity.

The most overused amendment is the Second, on the right to bear arms, which has been so abused that young thugs can now legally own assault weapons openly. If the Supreme Court imagines in its wildest dreams, that this will not lead ultimately to far more violence in society, and ultimately a breakdown in society, perhaps they inhabit an alternative universe. Increasingly powerful weapons will always, in any society, lead to violence and bloodshed.

The amendments on personal privacy have been so gutted as to be nonsensical, as are those amendments that extend the vote to women and African-Americans. States routinely abuse their ability to restrict the vote in dozens of ways instead of increase the franchise to a greater number of people.

The U.S. Constitution needs to be redrawn for this new century. The dysfunction in the House is clear evidence of that. The ability of states to gerrymander their districts to encompass those voting blocs they covet undermines this very democratic system and distorts results, as can be seen in the current Congress.

Republicans won a majority of the seats only by cheating, by gerrymandering. Voting Districts need to be drawn up according to a rigid set of rules by an independent group of people, preferably lifetime bureaucrats whose sole purpose it is to ensure fairness in elections.

The final solution, and I do not intend that ironically, or comparing it to that in Nazi Germany, is for the states to split. The fact is that this nation has been at war with itself since the end of the Civil War. Southern Conservatives have wanted to secede from the Union ever since they lost the battle.

They have taken their fight to the floor of the U.S. Congress, the state houses and circuit courts across the nation. They are winning far too many states across the south and mid-west and imposing their authoritarian ideologies on their people.

It is my belief that nothing will change the tone in Washington until these states go their own way. The West and the North East should secede from the union and join Canada, a far more liberal, open and fair-minded society.

Granted, this is a radical solution, and may not solve anything, It is just as likely that, once torn from the nation, the southern states would just become belligerent towards the rest, igniting another worthless war. It is not a solution that I think is workable, and would only cause bloodshed nd heartache.

The far more sensible route is for Republicans to return to sanity, return to the center of the political spectrum instead of chasing each other further to the right. They need to compromise, negotiate, and realise that they cannot have everything they want. As it is they receive far more from the North-east and west than they give in return.

With the current Congress, I doubt that this is possible.

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