American politics is now dangerously less functional than it was a few decades ago. These changes for the worse are mainly due to the actions of three men. All are Republicans, but their sins aren’t based on political ideology per se. They’re based on interfering with the processes that America depends on.
The first of the three is Newt Gingrich. He is the man most responsible for damned near destroying working relationships between Democrats and Republicans. He made demonization of the opposition an expectation for legislators. Before him, the parties talked to each other and there were personal friendships that crossed party lines, most notably that between Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. Before Gingrich, Republicans in Congress understood that their primary function was to make the country work; after Gingrich their primary function was getting rid of the opposition.
The second is Rupert Murdoch. He turned media impartiality into a complete charade. He used Fox News as a Republican organ but the rest of the media didn’t treat Fox as the journalistic pariahs they deserved to be. “Fair and balanced” should have been treated as the lie it was by the rest of the media, not just in private but in print and on the air, but they didn’t, even when the owner donated a million dollars to one political party. The result of treating Fox News as an actual news organization was that the rest of the media allowed itself to be forced to bend over backward so as not to appear too liberal. The end result of this was to sacrifice actual objectivity for the appearance of objectivity. At a time when impartiality and objectivity were mutually exclusive, they chose impartiality, and the result was that they turned into political scorekeepers, not guardians of anything, not an institution worthy of being considered the Fourth Estate. Impartiality is not appropriate when one party is behaving substantially worse than the other, as Donald Trump demonstrated so vividly with his “good people on both sides” statement in the aftermath of Charlottesville. When Trump came along, the news media had lost the habits necessary to stop him. Instead, they gave him a billion dollars’ worth of free coverage because he sold copy and air time. The irony in all this is that the result of their concentrating on impartiality instead of objectivity - and instead of responsibility - is that they are now considered Fake News by a substantial portion of the population. The monster their impartiality created killed the very impression they were trying to preserve.
The third is Mitch McConnell. When Barack Obama was elected President, McConnell started using Gingrich’s playbook, making opposition far more important than running the country (and stating baldly that opposition was his biggest priority). But that was just a continuation of Gingrich; it was late in Obama’s second term that McConnell started becoming really dangerous. This started with a Senate Majority Leader refusing to vet the President’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice. By the time he did this, the media had been neutered to the point that they didn’t raise a fuss and continue raising it - they treated it as something belonging in a news cycle instead of the fundamental threat to democracy that it was. This was later followed by his using the Nuclear Option to confirm Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, making such a critical confirmation a strictly partisan matter.
When Donald Trump became President, he didn’t understand all that much about his powers and limitations, and so he pushed in unprecedented ways, including allowing his family’s businesses to be supported by the White House. This normally wouldn’t be a danger because Congress would set him straight, but Mitch McConnell was Senate Majority Leader and wasn’t about to set him straight about anything. The most critical of the checks and balances in the Constitution was being ignored.
The worst, the absolute worst, example of this was McConnell’s reaction to Russian interference in an American election. The Republican Senate Majority Leader along with most Republicans in Congress at best ignored the intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia had interfered with an American election and at worst actively protected the President and disputed the intelligence community’s conclusions. Five years ago that wouldn’t have been a sentence in English. Five years ago Republicans in Congress would have considered that treason.
They would have been right.
Some blame Trump but Trump isn’t the problem, Trump is the result of the problem and is the ultimate proof of how severe the problem is.
Trump once said his followers would continue to support him if he shot someone in Times Square. He’s right, of course, and I seriously believe he’s right with no exaggeration whatsoever. That’s ultimately more on Murdoch than anyone else. What’s far worse is I’m by no means sure that the Senate wouldn’t continue to support him.
Right now, the checks and balances set up so carefully by the Founding Fathers are failing. The 2020 election could potentially kill them altogether.
We have three men to thank for that.