The American political order seems to be disintegrating before our eyes.
The Republican Party has sued President Obama for abuse of his constitutional authority when he delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act and made other changes to the law. Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority has indeed been deeply troubling, but few see the GOP’s action as anything but a symbolic nod to a portion of the party’s base, which would like to see the president not sued, but impeached.
Appalling? Sure. Consider, though, the president’s response. He mocks the Republicans with “so, sue me,” while he considers taking his most radical executive action yet: an order that would grant amnesty to half of America’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin might renew their calls for impeachment — even if they create the only scenario under which the Democrats would have a chance in the 2014 midterm elections.
You get the sense that Mr. Obama knows all this, and that he’s willing to let it happen, just as the Republicans are willing to pursue their own extreme scenarios for political victory.
Whether it’s Democrats raising money from their base over the threat of impeachment or Republicans suing the president, the parties have this much in common: They’re both more interested in pursuing partisan, short-term advantage than they are in building consensus and solving national problems that require immediate attention.
It’s all part of the most disheartening trend in American political life: the fraying, if not total evisceration, of American institutions, traditions, and governance.
It’s a dynamic that has profound implications, not only for our domestic politics, but also our global influence.
We have a CIA that has been caught spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, despite protestations from CIA Director John O. Brennan that this wouldn’t happen. Mr. Brennan should resign immediately, and Mr. Obama’s professed “full confidence” in Mr. Brennan should call into question the president’s grip on reality.
Americans have a right to know about these and other abuses of power. We need to know what happened with rendition after Sept. 11, 2001, for example. Mr. Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks” recently. He said that America had “crossed a line,” but we deserve to know the full story.
Meanwhile, when it comes to making laws instead of breaking them, Congress can get nothing done. A recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll shows that just 13 percent of Americans are satisfied with Congress’ performance. A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll finds that 79 percent expressed some dissatisfaction with the political system. Seventy-six percent of adults lack confidence that their children will have a better life than they do, while just 3 percent call themselves “very satisfied” with the economy. Some 71 percent think that the country is on the wrong track — and 70 percent blame Washington.
Put simply, our government has lost the capacity to respond to the needs and concerns of the American people.
The political dysfunction in the United States has significance far beyond our shores. I remember what a Jordanian journalist at a recent Clinton Global Initiative meeting told me.
“When you fail,” he said of the United States, “it makes failure here easier. When American politicians are corrupt, it signals to politicians around the world that it’s OK for them to be corrupt. When the American legislature is paralyzed in never-ending gridlock, it says that intraparty cooperation is an unattainable goal and gives politicians a way to avoid working together to find solutions.”
Instead of setting a positive example — and leading, as we must do — the United States is losing not only its moral authority, but its influence around the world.
Despite tightened sanctions by both the United States and the European Union, Russia shows no sign of backing off its effort to control large parts of eastern Ukraine. Indeed, Russia’s response has been sanctions of its own, not coming to the negotiating table.
Afghanistan and Iraq appear to be headed toward collapse.
The Afghan elections are still in turmoil, and the Taliban is making large gains. We can’t even get a successful vote count.
The Islamic State has successfully taken control of large parts of Iraq. Despite the election of a Kurd, Fuad Masum, as the new Iraqi president, the country’s future looks dire. Mr. Obama just authorized limited airstrikes on Iraqi militants in northern Iraq. What our role should be in a country in which we staked, and lost, so much is no longer clear.
The 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants has come to an end. The bloody conflict’s ultimate outcome isn’t clear, but American influence seems ceremonial, at best.
Our pervasive weakness abroad is linked to our own domestic divisions and apparent loss of will to govern ourselves. Impotence at home makes exercising influence on the global stage difficult, if not impossible. We shouldn’t need reminders that less democratic — and often anti-democratic — models stand ready to fill the breach, whether in Moscow or Beijing.
It’s impossible to minimize the perils we face as a people. Taken in sum, our problems add up to much more than a short-term political crisis. It will take more than a few election cycles to fix them — but we had better get started, right now.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor and the author of “The End of Authority” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).
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