It is no great mystery why the dysfunctional American political system has ground to a stalemate. When two sides to any negotiation lack a common objective, there is no incentive to settle any dispute. President Trump has always prided himself on being the great dealmaker; of course, in business, deals are made because both sides share the goal of making as much money as possible. In the good deal, each side will benefit. Seller, buyer, supplier of raw materials, manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer will all work together, take their cuts, and rejoice on the way to the bank.
Sadly, politics are currently practiced is not conducive to deal-making. The objectives are not money per se or even the general welfare but the solitary goal of power – its the pursuit and attainment. Power is a zero sum game. (Today, of course, one byproduct of power is access to money and the ability to distribute it to cronies, friends and voters, but it is not the money itself that is the goal, unlike the businessman for whom that is the only goal.) If the objective is power, then raw power politics infuses every decision, policy and negotiation, and the only desirable outcome is the weakening, even destruction, of your opponent.
It is odd, indeed, how the game of politics in this democracy and so many dictatorships is played by the same rules. The “people” don’t really matter. I laugh when I hear politicians (on both sides) intone about what “the American people want” or “the American people will not accept.” Such sentiments are risible, as politicians are unconcerned with the American people as such but only with their constituents, and their constituents who vote, and especially their constituents who vote for them. The game is how to achieve power, keep it and expand it.
It doesn’t break any new ground to suggest that politicians as a class are dishonest people but the levels of dishonesty and hypocrisy have reached new nadirs. Politicians (think Schumer and Pelosi, for two) in past years routinely voted for and spoke favorably about physical barriers as indispensable for border security. Now? Well, we know what is happening now, but the only thing that has changed is the name and party of the president. Compounding the problem is that very few of these politicians will allow themselves to be interviewed by journalists who will question them about these inconsistencies. They prefer the softball questions of the “journalists” who are their ideological patriots. Wouldn’t you love to hear Nancy Pelosi answer this question: “How can a border wall be immoral when you voted for it in the past, and budgeted even more money for it than the President is asking now? When did it become immoral?”
Of course walls work, always have, always will. Many politicians – Pelosi and Obama among them – live behind protective walls. The Kotzker Rebbe could afford to keep his doors unlocked, with a sign out front “lo tignov,” do not steal, as deterrent; he had nothing worth stealing anyway. It is amusing how people who oppose a border wall always seem to live in gated communities. The issue then, obviously, is not security or even a wall – but public relations, votes, and the road to power. It is a sham, played out for the entertainment of the masses. The only people affected by this farce are the workers are temporarily furloughed and unpaid, and the victims of illegal immigrant crime who are permanently murdered or become addicted to the waves of narcotics and opioids that enter this country through the southern border, by air and by sea. (Incidentally, there is something both saddening and maddening about a country with a severe drug problem that is now gung ho on legalizing marijuana.)
Here is a clear example of dishonesty at work: one leftist activist group mocked the President’s reference to Israel’s successful border wall, claiming that the wall that cuts through Judea and Samaria was necessary to prevent terrorist incursions, and that such has not been a problem on the United States’ southern border. True – but that is not the wall to which Trump is referring. Israel built a sophisticated barrier along its southern border with Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula to halt the influx of illegal migrants from the Sudan, Eritrea and surrounding areas. Tens of thousands arrived in the last decade or so, some working in menial jobs but others turning to violence and theft – until the barrier was built. It has been almost 100% effective in preventing illegal migration from the south.
But why let facts get in the way of a good advertisement?
“Hatred distorts traditional norms of conduct” (Midrash Breisheet Rabba 55:8, and cited in this week’s sedra of Beshalach by the medieval commentator Chizkuni to explain Pharaoh’s irrationality). Haters lose their perspective and their reason and renounce whatever value system they previously professed. If Trump is for a wall, Dems must oppose it. If Trump wants American troops out of Syria, Dems become jingoistic proponents of the projection of American power across the Middle East and the world (after decades of opposition to same). If Trump wants to resolve the problem of the CHIIPS (CHildren of Illegal Immigrant Parents raised in America), Dems must oppose any solution. When Obama was pro-Putin, that was statesmanship; if Trump is pro-Putin, that is treachery. If Trump is protectionist (even to a fault), then the Dems – the party of protectionism! – must present as free traders.
If Trump is pro-Israel, then the Dems have to become anti-Israel. Whoever Trump nominates for any position must be opposed; the simple fact that he nominates them disqualifies them from public service. If Trump negotiates with North Korea, the Dems must oppose it.
The executive and legislative branches are distrusted by large elements of the population. And the federal judiciary has also corrupted itself, issuing injunctions to thwart the President’s will on specious legal grounds and totally ignoring obvious statutory authority; too many partisan judges see themselves as part of the resistance and that undermines faith in the third branch of government. Thus there is across-the-board distrust in every center of authority, with each branch at war with the others. And it is indisputable that the FBI has disgraced itself with shady partisan tricks under color of authority, criminal behavior that, if the sides were reversed, would be the subject of endless investigations and condemnations by the liberal media.
Well, this is not normal and the application of “Hatred distorts traditional norms of behavior and thinking.” It is self-destructive, and corrosive to any nation that lives through it. Politics has always been about power but it usually included an interest on some level in promoting the general welfare of the people. That has disappeared and it is hard to see how the upcoming presidential campaign – whoever runs or whoever wins – will succeed in restoring the norms of public discourse.
There are few real policy disputes. There are questions of degree more than kind. These issues were always handled in the past through finding a number that meets both sides’ needs. The $5B sought for a border wall is a rounding error in the federal budget of more than four trillion dollars. The budget allocates more billions to frivolous vanity projects of various Congressmen than to the border wall. The Postal Service loses more every year than is sought in this request. Politicians remain obsessed with getting favorable coverage from their media sycophants and claiming to speak on behalf of the “American people.”
How can we find a way out of this morass? Declaring a national emergency won’t work as the Dems will run to the courts where the matter will be buried for months or years. So here is a suggestion: Open up the government for one week, beginning this Monday. This way, federal workers can get two paychecks at the end of the week and will be up to date (and not have people realize that citizens can get along quite well without these “non-essential workers”). One week – during which time each side presents proposals and counterproposals. The side that refuses to compromise will be exposed as the side that refuses to compromise.
Does that matter anymore? We will see.
(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)