The Banterer Is a collection of conversations between our authors about a variety of topics from politics and Pop culture to sports and religion.

The Arms Race of Obstruction

The 2016 presidential election and its immediate aftermath have been heated and contested at every step by all sides. One thing everyone can agree on though: our country is more divided than the media and the elites in government and industry wanted to believe. Since Trump was elected, protests and violence have broken out in cities across America, and one could reasonably expect that the same thing would have happened had the election gone the other way, albeit with a decidedly more rural flavor. Now, anyone pretending that the rhetoric and demonization we see in politics today is anything new doesn't know their history well enough. However, the way that the fears and hatreds this rhetoric always embodies have been manifesting themselves between election cycles in the way we actually govern is deeply concerning. Alarm bells are ringing.

Generally speaking I am sympathetic to the protesters in major cities over the past week. After all, while the electoral college was meant to keep one part of the country from tyrannizing the other, ultimately it cannot bridge the widening gap between the realities in our large cities that makes them reliably blue and the realities everywhere but major cities that make the rest of the country overwhelmingly red. And protests are to be expected and perhaps even encouraged when our president-elect's campaign rhetoric have forced the public to doubt his commitment to the first amendment and the Geneva Conventions/basic human decency. In short, I can get behind the first stated goal of the protesters in this article by CNN: "Protesters in Iowa this week had two main goals, said Rachel Walerstein, who attended protest in Iowa[sic]. First, they wanted to let people know that rhetoric-fueled violence against people of color, immigrants and LGBT people won't stand, she said." I am on board with that, and given the events of the past week and the hateful rhetoric of the campaign, such a protective stance does seem necessary. The sentence that immediately follows, though, is worrisome. "'The second is to make a statement of political instability to render it difficult to govern, and in particular, to make it impossible for Trump to implement his policies in the first 100 days,' she said. 'For me, it's important to make these statements known and visible.'

This reflects a trend in our country of which both sides are guilty: wanton and indiscriminate obstructionism of the party in power. Republicans have been doing it for the better part of eight years, and were clearly prepared to continue doing so had Hillary Clinton won the presidential election. This is not entirely the fault of the politicians; they are simply doing what the electorate largely elected them to do. The Tea Party has effectively coerced the more centrist wing of the Republican Party to hold firm on obstructionism, and their constituents have re-elected them on that basis. Likewise, were the Democrats in a position to block whomever Donald Trump may nominate to the Supreme Court or to hold the budget and major bills hostage as the Republicans have, there would be significant pressure from the people protesting in the streets right now to follow suit. Since that option is not available for at least two years, the liberal electorate clearly feels that threatening civil disobedience preemptively is the only way to protect themselves and have their voice be heard. The fact that liberal voters today and conservative voters four and eight years ago were both saying the exact same thing after the election didn't go their way-"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"-resonates in the halls of power and tells our politicians that we don't want them to work together. We want them to fight until one side is dead. And because that is an easy path to take, our elected officials will do it if we ask them to.

Unfortunately, while this sentiment may be fine for resisting an invasion by a foreign power, it is no way to govern. Escalating tit-for-tat obstructionism to the point of mutually-assured destruction does no one any good. It has wrecked our budget, it has stalled any progress on solutions to the country’s multifarious problems, and it has deepened the divisions in this country to the point that protests and riots increasingly appear to be the only way to get anything done. While it is understandable that both sides increasingly feel as though they are at war with the other side of the political spectrum, that has, to a certain extent, always been the case. Only once before in our history, however, has the conflict between two sides of the political spectrum felt like such a zero-sum game where people on each side of the country justifiably fear that if they lose they will be subject to the tyranny of the winning side. And when it happened before, things didn't go particularly well for the country. Politics cannot be made a zero-sum game, because when it does, history tells us that politics will give way to violence. At the very least, we should not have to vote one party into full control of every branch of government if we want to see anything at all done. At best that is deeply unhealthy and unproductive, and at worst it limits the options of the party out of power to extremism.

Normally I would prefer to offer at least a tentative stab at a solution, because generally speaking, articles that offer no solution are not constructive or helpful or even particularly interesting. I cannot do that here, however, because the web of failings and deficiencies is so comprehensive that I am not in a position to tackle it. We the electorate are at fault for demanding that our officials take hard-line stances on every issue and obstruct rather than even attempt cooperation. Our elected officials are at fault for fearfully and meekly bowing to our demands and governing solely with votes and polls in mind rather than governing with the actual interests of the nation in mind. The media is at fault because they have made it nearly impossible to find news without a slant or to trust that what is being reported is even entirely true, and have foregone the hard and vital work of holding those in power to account in favor of infinite analysis and ratings-boosting rabble-rousing. Interest groups are at fault for insisting on a barbaric sort of tribalism that oftentimes defies reason and their own self-interest*. The solution, or at least the beginning of the solution, can be nothing less than that everyone commit to real, reasoned debate on true either/or issues (such as for abortion) and to compromise on issues where compromise is appropriate (such as for immigration reform); we must agree to stop dragging each other down into the mud. Unfortunately, given historical precedent and everything we know about human nature, that cannot be taken as a serious suggestion.

 


*For example, evangelical Christians should be fiercely defending the rights and privileges of Muslims in this country since all signs point to Christianity not being very far from the docket in the future. Yet, because they believe differently, the religious right bafflingly and overwhelmingly made excuses and voted for someone who has seriously considered a religious test for people wanting to enter the country and has said that he will only trust Muslims who are citizens if they spy on each other without raising a single complaint or making a single demand. The price of the American evangelical church's soul is apparently a single Supreme Court nomination. Hosea 4 comes to mind. 

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