Mar. 19th, 2017

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So. Looking past Trump, I was struck by something Robert Reich said - he was in Washington, talked to both Ds and Rs there about how out of touch and abandoned people in the country feel, and got pretty much uncomprehending looks in return. He seems to feel that the problem is that nobody in Washington is prepared to propose the kinds of policies that would help people.

It's easy to say "that's the Washington bubble" but I want to suggest there might be a different problem. Again, forget Trump for a minute and look at the larger scale.

As the two parties have gradually polarized over the last 50 years, the ability of Washington to implement new policies has ground to a halt. (Reagan changed some things, but far less than his rhetoric suggested he wanted, and he took over early in the polarization process.)

I think both parties have huge laundry lists of policies they would really, really like to implement and which they really, really believe will help the country a lot, if implemented. (Obviously, I agree with one set but not the other, but I'm talking perception and intent here, and that's the perception and intent of both sides.)

But they're finding they can't really change anything significant. I mean, look at 2010 - for a few months (and that's all it was, between seating Franken and the death of Kennedy) the Democrats were able to combine a president, a House majority, a filibuster-proof Senate supermajority, and a bare four and a half votes on the Supreme Court; they passed one major piece of legislation that had to slice half its ass off multiple times in order to squeeze through - in response to which the furious campaign mounted against it led to an electoral drubbing that November, and the opposition has gone clinically insane throwing everything they have into mindless derailing opposition and repeal efforts for the seven years since then, and now will succeed in undoing at least some of its surviving benefits. As their top legislative priority.

The lesson learned is complete hopeless deadlock. (When a party gets the majority they keep hoping. But they won't get 60 votes in the Senate for any budget, not ever again, not until there's 60 Senators of the same party.)

And I've been saying for a while now that this is a fundamental flaw in our constitution that a succession of special circumstances have camouflaged (effective one-party dominance through 1800-1836, again from 1876-1928, and 1928-1964, the latter two assisted by the ideological crossfertilization caused by Lincoln accidentally being from the wrong party). Without another such special circumstance or a catastrophic failure, I don't see a solution.

So I suspect that almost everybody in Washington, Democrat and Republican, seriously believes some variant of "People are frustrated not because we are out of touch, but because we are unable to *do* anything we want to do." It's not that either party lacks a platform that (they believe) will help the country. It's that neither party has any realistic hope of implementing their plans, because the other party is utterly committed to a scorched-earth unrelenting opposition to every one of their plans, and united opposition is too effective.

Too many impediments exist that were intended to be used by well-meaning legislators to slow legislation and further debate, but they become impenetrable walls when used by partisans (who use them because they are honestly and fully convinced of the destructive potential of the partisans on the other side - and I myself strongly believe this to be true about the other side, so I'm not trying to stand apart from or above this conflict.)

We're stuck where we are - unless the nation truly leans itself into a demographically-spread 60/40 split for a sustained period and lets one side actually control the ball and score some touchdowns. But it can't happen for as long as big chunks of people - even just a sizeable minority - are convinced this will lead to destruction and collapse, because they'll take up arms.

And the country is, to be honest, kind of not grappling with that reality. If Washington's in a bubble, the problem isn't so much that they can't see out as they can't change the laws of political physics that govern it.

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