America isn’t perfect. It never has been. The United States however, is a place where we as a society strive to improve. While there may be disagreements on how to achieve our goals, most Americans agree they want a better life for their children, better education, better healthcare and more economic opportunity.
Over the long haul, the see-saw of competing visions on how to meet these goals usually achieves results. The standard of living in the United States is not only better than that of a generation ago, it is better than that of the rest of the world. Equal rights regardless of race, ethnicity or gender aren’t executed perfectly, but as a society, we far outpace any other in this regard. The healthcare system has its flaws, but when the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people require serious healthcare they don’t travel to China or Russia. They come to the United States. The ultimate goal of healthcare, providing maximum health opportunity, is apparently being achieved here more than other parts of the planet.
We aren’t perfect. Not even close. But there is plenty of success to celebrate in the United States, unless of course you want to win an election.
History shows us a variety of messages have been politically successful. Overcoming the tyrannical British was an early message that resonated with colonial Americans. Uniting the country was an essential message following the Civil War. Strength and stability were winning issues following the first World War. The post-World War II era saw fears about communism creep into messaging. The Reagan era promoted patriotism, peace and prosperity.
All of these themes have one thing in common. On some level the argument for the issue of the day was intended to strengthen America. Whether it was fighting an enemy, improving day to day lives or pride in achievement, all were about strengthening our country in one way or another, making institutions stronger and better and fighting against those who divide us. Some individuals who ran for office genuinely and passionately believed what they were saying. Others simply understood the mood of the electorate and climbed on the issue train for a victory ride.
The last decade has seen a new and somewhat disturbing phenomena, however. The trendy political message is no longer about strengthening the United States. Instead, it is about tearing it down.
Barack Obama was first elected on a message of hope and change, yet he spent his presidency stoking the fires of racial fear and prejudice. When he entered office, a Gallup poll showed 22% of Americans thought race relations were bad or very bad. After eight years of his divisive and incendiary rhetoric, Gallup asked the same question and found 55% of Americans thought race relations were bad or very bad. Mr. Obama’s racial divide was bad for the country, but proved to be ballot box gold.
In the final presidential debate of 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were asked if they would accept the outcome of the November presidential vote. A confident Mrs. Clinton, well ahead in the polls at the time, said questioning the outcome simply couldn’t happen. “That is not the way our democracy works. We have been around for 240 years, we have had free and fair elections, we have accepted the outcomes, when we may not have liked them and that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.” Mrs. Clinton went on to say, “I for one am appalled that the nominee of one of our two major parties would” … question the outcome of an election.
Ironically, Mrs. Clinton has spent the last three years doing exactly that. Despite the fact the Electoral College has been used for those same 240 years, she has repeatedly said she beat Donald Trump because she got more of the popular vote. Mrs. Clinton and her followers continually raised the possibility of the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians to win the elections. Multiple investigations have found there is no basis for this claim, but the damage is done anyway.
Many Democrats believe their best path to victory in future elections is to nullify the outcome of the previous election. Question the validity of President Trump’s victory. Pretend he cheated with our arch-enemy and perhaps enough people will believe it that he won’t win again. Could it work? Maybe, but sadly at an extraordinary price. By tearing down the Electoral College in hopes of immediate gain and by suggesting our president is the puppet of the Russians, the Clinton machine substantially chips away at the very foundation of our government.
Even more sad though, is this strategy isn’t unique.
Stacey Abrams, nearly one year after losing the election for governor of Georgia, refuses to concede. She continues to say that voter suppression cost her the election. Never mind that she lost by 65,000 votes and has yet to produce one voter who was kept from voting. Facts play no role in this political tactic. Baseless accusations and sewing the seeds of doubt are the currency.
The leading Democrat for his party’s 2020 nomination for president, Joseph R. Biden, was quoted this week while talking with reporters as saying, “Now we face a problem that the economy, as well as the soul of this country, is collapsing because of this presidency.” The economy is collapsing? Unemployment is at a record low, interest rates and inflation remain low. Consumer confidence is at 96%, the highest ever, but the former vice president can’t run against happy consumers. Instead, he must spread doubt about the economy and hope that it turns bad.
The Republicans aren’t immune, either. Mr. Trump has continually criticized the Federal Reserve and specifically Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. While presidents may have grumbled generically in the past about interest rates, it has been at least 25 years since a sitting president has been specifically critical of Fed policy, and there has likely never been criticism as sharp as that lobbed at the central bank by Mr. Trump.
The most recent, and some would argue, the most egregious example of politicians chipping away at the foundations of our republic occurred this past week. Five Democratic senators filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court in a case related to New York gun laws. It is no surprise that there are some Democratic senators who don’t like the Second Amendment. What was surprising, however, was the tone they took with the court. Rather than simply stick to the constitutional issues in question, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Richard Durbin and Kirsten Gillibrand instead decided to stick it directly to the Supreme Court itself.
“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” the brief said. “Perhaps the court can heal itself before the public demands it be restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.” So the court is being threatened by the very people who vote to approve justices? No wonder the Wall Street Journal referred to their filing as an “enemy of the court brief.” Perhaps more importantly, what exactly do the senators mean by “restructuring” the Supreme Court?
What they mean is adding more justices to the current configuration of nine, so that a Democratic president can tilt the ideology of the court to their own liking. FDR tried this idea back in 1937, wanting to increase the number of justices to 13. He would have appointed the additional justices, of course. The idea went nowhere. It shouldn’t go anywhere in 2019, either.
Despite the protestations from liberal senators, the Supreme Court is currently remarkably balanced. Two were appointed by Mr. Trump, two by Mr. Obama, two by President George W. Bush, two by President Bill Clinton and one by President George H.W. Bush. A look at their votes in the 2018/2019 session shows many unanimous votes and several 5-4 votes that turned in favor of the more liberal side of the issue. Why then do five U.S. senators feel the need to attack the credibility of the Supreme Court? Because political messaging today consists primarily of tearing down society’s institutions.
Tear down the credibility of the highest court in the land. How can that possibly make us stronger as a nation? It can’t any more than trying to convince consumers they shouldn’t feel good about the economy, maligning the Federal Reserve, or questioning the outcome of elections. When people cease to believe in the pillars, the very foundations of our society, those pillars, and indeed our society, collapse.
I started this column by pointing out America isn’t perfect and has never been. What it has been is remarkably successful in a wide variety of ways. The United States has taken a leading role in free speech, in minority rights, in gender equality, in economic opportunity and in health and well being. Can we improve? Of course, but we can’t discount the successes that our slow, lumbering institutions have afforded us.
Ignoring the success of the economy unquestionably weakens America. Ignoring the success of the electoral college in making sure all states have a proportional voice in favor of short term political gain weakens the country. Suggesting the Supreme Court is sick and full of political hacks is not only untrue, it dangerously weakens our belief in justice. Let’s hope this termite trend of eating away at America from the inside out is one that stops soon.
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