Tribalism and Democracy


Jason Chaffetz, the GOP Congressman in charge of the House Oversight Committee had years of investigations ready to go when we all thought Hillary was going to be President.  When the historically corrupt DJT got his surprise win, suddenly there was nothing worth worrying about, and it took a long time and a very obvious five-alarm fire (oh, and a decision to retire) to get him off of his seat.

GOP Senator Rand Paul, confronted with the shenanigans of Michael Flynn and Russia, didn’t think it was worth looking into anymore.  After all, this is a Republican administration.  “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party.”

GOP Congressman Tom MacArthur recently told a crowd of (angry) constituents that “We don’t oversee the Executive … Congress is not the board of directors of the White House.”  Brian Beutler observes, “The congressman who made this claim … might be surprised to learn that there’s a House committee called the Oversight Committee.”  And Jonathan Chait points to the larger issue:

Whether or not Trump asked for the same kind of loyalty oath of the congressional leadership that he demanded of Comey, they have acted as though they have given one. The Republican Congress has quashed demands for his tax returns, blocked independent investigations of Russian hacking, and mostly refrained from condemning his firing of Comey. So deeply have Republicans internalized their dereliction of the traditional oversight function that New Jersey Republican representative Tom MacArthur recently told a gathering of upset constituents, “We don’t oversee the Executive … Congress is not the board of directors of the White House.”

It’s as though the only thing some folks need to know about a public figure is the letter he or she is willing to tack onto the end of his or her name.  If “D” then she must be evil and corrupt; if “R” then carry on!  Nothing to see here.

Thinking about elected representatives and public policy in sports-fan terms seems to me to leave little room for what I thought were the more important questions for citizens in a democracy: Is it true?  Is it fair?  Is it wise?  Does it solve the problem?  Who benefits?  If we boil every question or issue down to, “Whose idea is it?” and “Whose team?” then it seems to me that we may not be living up to our responsibilities as citizens.

Troubling as it is to think that an entire party of elected officials is comfortable with this kind of stunted, double-standard reasoning, there’s plenty of evidence that large portions of the electorate have succumbed as well.  And that’s the truly concerning finding.

Maybe some of the madness of recent weeks will work its way through and scales will begin to fall from eyes, but even if that happens and folks finally see the erratic king for what he is, how troubling will it be to think that it had to get this bad before we were able to see it?  And how confident can we be in the quality of decisions we as a people will make going forward?

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