Friday, January 8, 2021

Running Out the Clock

I dislike sports analogies, but "running out the clock" has a clear meaning, which describes the remaining dozen days until President Biden's inauguration. The seemingly interminable transition from one president to another is a challenge to 21st-century impatience. But that is how it is in our constitutional system. Of course, this has been an unprecedentedly problematic transition, and a heightened level of anxiety surrounds Donald Trump's continued presence in the White House - increasingly so since his incitement to riot and rebellion on Wednesday. Some have urged the Vice President to invoke the 25th Amendment, or, failing that, are urging the House to impeach the president for a second time.

The applicability of the 25th Amendment has been talked about almost since Trump took office. My guess would be that it is not much more likely to happen now than it was then. As for impeachment, given Congress's typically snail-like pace, it would certainly be quite an accomplishment to impeach in just a couple of days. That the president deserves to be impeached is as clear as it was a year ago. My reticence about impeachment a year ago referred to the certainty that the Senate would vote to acquit. I will remain reticent about this second impeachment until I see some evidence that enough Senators who failed to do what they should have done a year ago have had a change of heart. Otherwise, impeachment will just be another exercise in expressive symbolic politics. 

Symbolism matters, and so maybe it would still be worth it to impeach the president again without convicting him. But what the country most needs starting January 20 will be a functioning government, focusing not on expressive, symbolic politics but on addressing and solving some of the serous social problems that currently afflict the country. There was one piece of very good news Wednesday morning, that then got lost in the increasingly bad news of that terrible day. The reckoning required by Wednesday's tragic events is inevitably a priority. But that must not diminish the  fact that Wednesday morning's new from Georgia will make a major difference in enabling a truly post-Trump America. The 117th Congress will have a Democratic-controlled Senate. This means that President Biden will be able to govern, that once again government can work as it needs to work "to promote the general welfare" and as it was intended to work. 

It is yet another fallacious misreading of the Founders and the Constitution to allege that divided government and gridlock represent some constitutional ideal. The constitution does indeed set certain limits to government's power. Religion is supposed to be off the table, for example, as is censorship; and individuals, no mater how unpopular, are supposed to get due process, etc. But the framers wrote the Constitution precisely to remedy the weaknesses of the national government under the Articles of Confederation. They very consciously and deliberately designed a government with certain limits but which, within the framework of such limits, is supposed to work to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

The Democratic majority in the Senate is admittedly the narrowest possible. Still, it should enable Biden’s Cabinet nominees and his judicial nominees to to be confirmed without undue stress, and it at least renders real legislation somewhat possible - starting with those $2,000 COVID-19 stimulus checks which the Republicans prevented from passing (a foolhardy decision which may have helped cost them those Georgia seats) And should there be another Supreme Court vacancy in the next two years, it will be filed with someone other than a Federalist Society hack. More ambitious things may be harder to accomplish, but it is at least possible that the continuing crisis in health care access may be effectively addressed. Deeper, structural reforms like admitting new states to the Union and eliminating the tyranny of the filibuster may be harder to accomplish, but they should at least be on the table. 

There is the danger, of course, that the Democratic majority will fritter away its opportunities in the short interval before the next election on investigations and culturally divisive "identity" politics. The fact is that, to the extent that voters have empowered the Democrats to do something, they have done so in the hope that they will actually do something at last - do something that will actually improve people's lives, everything from short-term remedies like covid checks to longer-term reforms. Maybe Medicare for All may be out of reach, but Medicare for a lot more people may not be. A public option may be out of reach, but more expanded Medicaid for more people may be achievable. The point is that there is so much that is wrong right now that even moderate reforms may significantly improve people's lives - and get a Democratic Congress reelected in 2022.

The reckoning with Trumpism will remain a priority, and Trumpism will still be a force to be reckoned with whether Trump is running in 2024 or Trump was removed a few days before the end of his term and disqualified from running again. But the most effective and long-standing recking with Trumpism would be for the Democrats to use their control of congress wisely and well to offer an alternative attractive enough to keep the Republicans out of power for a long time to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment