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The Price of Political Timidity

The  OLD Philosopher – John M. Miller


Courage was a hallmark in almost none of the midterm elections for United States Senate or House of Representatives seats. Very few candidates proclaimed what they honestly thought or felt about the most important issues facing the American electorate in November of 2018.

Office holders in both political parties were loath to admit their personal complicity or that of their particular party in the shameful dysfunction of Congress from January of 2016 to November of 2018. The people deserved to hear ideas about what steps could be followed to overcome this dysfunction, but seldom was heard such a discouraging word.

The American people are angry that Congress has become so ineffective. Still, almost no one seeking election had the fortitude to specify what the Congressional problems are for fear of losing votes, rather than gaining them.

Who wants to admit that Congress operates under ancient and arcane rules that deliberately prevent rather than encourage meaningful discussion and legislation? Is it wise for office-seekers to tell the electorate that Congress has devolved into nothing more than a debating society using colorful invectives rather than a smoothly-operating mechanism for legislation to improve the quality of life for the greatest number of Americans? Is it shrewd to point out that Congress now perpetually functions like a well-oiled gigantic jagged boulder?

What candidates bemoaned the corrupting influence of lobbyists? On the widely publicized trail for votes, who railed about the obscene amount of money it takes to win an office in Congress, even in states with puny populations? Politicians dare not say that politicians are the primary reason for the woeful recent record of the United States Congress. Instead, they passively allow pundits to address that reality.

However, the most obvious negative issue in the 2018 midterms was the one virtually none of the Republicans and even few of the Democrats cited in their campaigns. I refer to Him Whose Name Was Almost Never Named, the President of the United States.

A small number of Republicans retiring from office did question the behavior and some of the decisions of the President. Some Democrats also castigated Mr. Trump to a fine-fare-thee-well. Most did not, however, lest they lose the ballots of any swing voters who wanted to hear only positive points on the campaign trail. Some Democratic Trump-bashers managed to win, but others lost. Many Democrats accused Republicans of being silent about the President, but many other Democrats were also silent about what they readily recognize to be his many failings, because they or their handlers believed that a tell-all tactic might well backfire on them.

To be sure, Donald Trump has adopted a number of wise and helpful policies. Republicans bruited that loudly, leading up to November 6. Despite that, the President’s presidential demeanor remains depressingly constantly atrocious. Naturally Democrats avoided Trump’s successes like the plague. Nonetheless, by avoiding references to his many personal failings, which all Republican candidates also avoided, it invariably leads to an inevitable public minimization of those failings. As Barry Goldwater might have said but didn’t, timidity in the face of tyranny is no virtue. It was a serious mistake that all candidates did not attack the presidential modus operandi.

Probably a significant number of both Democratic and Republican candidates lost their elections because they were too cautious in their campaigns. If they had said what they truly know must be said, they might have convinced many on-the-fence voters to leap to their side of the fence. However, by trying not to sound impolitic, some politicians lost the seats they sought. Froth ought never to trump facts in political campaigns.  

If the preceding paragraph is essentially accurate, it is important to note that it also illustrates another problem in the American electoral process. Unless voters are clearly told by the candidates what the problems and possibilities of American politics truly are, they may cast their votes on the basis of entirely spurious campaign rhetoric. Voters should be treated like intelligent arbiters of democracy instead of like ignorant emoters of visceral reactions. If ordinary people understand the nature of the issues, and if the issues are intelligently presented, voters will make intelligent decisions. If they fail to do that, the failure is far more the failure of the campaigners than of the campaigned.

In the midterm elections, the Republicans gained a few seats in the Senate, and the Democrats regained control of the House. But the impasse of the last two years shall almost certainly continue for the next two years. The cable news networks shall all continue to fulminate about “the other side” and promote “their side,” but it is unlikely that many serious legislative steps forward shall be taken. The Same-Old-Same-Old shall still prevail, because the election of 2018 laid out no new pathways of change.

Having taken control of the House, the Democrats might be tempted to do what the Republicans did for the past two years when Republicans controlled the House. They and thwarted everything the Democrats wanted, but they did push through a few bills approved by their own party.

Now that the Democrats are in charge, they might be able to make some genuine progress on behalf of the American people, if only because the President no longer has a Republican majority in the House. After all, Mr. Trump’s political calculations are never essentially partisan, but solely personal and populist. If he believes taking the side of the Democrats might thrust him into the headlines more than has already occurred, he might jump at the opportunity. Appealing to Donald Trump’s vast vanity can produce enormous results.

What might “the people,” or at least a portion of the Trump people, want? Universal health care is a possibility, because it benefits everyone. Some Trump people, plus many other people, want fair elections and fairly-drawn congressional district borders. Fair-minded people want to erase local or state regulations which suppress the votes of certain kinds and classes of Americans. The injustice of intentionally inequitable congressional district lines is also a worsening distinctively American scandal.

Donald Trump, who apparently loves to be loved, even if many of his words and actions are unlovely, might warm to the notion of bipartisanship if he thought it would enhance his standing with a growing number of “the people.” Populism is the name of his game, and the Democrats might be able shrewdly to win his support for some measures which can redress some gross American political injustices through populist interest.  

The President has illustrated in countless ways that his primary allegiance is to himself, not to Republicans, Republican principles, or the Republican Party. Could the Democrats enlist his assistance in their causes? In the words of a famous teacher, if they were as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, they might pull it off. When the President is the happiest, he is the center of most of the attention of the media. If he has positive attention, so much the better, as far as he is concerned.

Democrats in Congress will accomplish nothing if their fundamental strategy is nothing other than perpetual opposition to the President and to the Republicans. If they are smart, they can use the blatant tendencies of Mr. Trump’s personality to their advantage, while advancing their own subtly-drawn strategy.

Frequently Donald Trump has voiced displeasure about Congress. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is charged with responsibility for fixing obvious weaknesses in the government and Congress. If the Democrats can enlist the President’s assistance in repairing many years of Congressional damage and neglect, both he and they will have done a great service to the country.  

Too often Democrats exhibit the natural tendencies of the animal which is the symbol of their party. With their regained control of the House of Representatives, it is not impossible they might actually accomplish important improvements in the next two years, joining with the President in overcoming some of the glaring issues which confront a weakened nation. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.   



John Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC.

More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.



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