Usually, death hits us at the wrong time. The passing of Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg opened the political arm wrenching in selecting her replacement. One can ask again if politics must be endless fights, or can we make them more about work and reason?
Baby boomers – those who did not get amnesia yet – remember that in their youth, the catchphrase of the day was “make love, not war.” In the United States, the war part of it had a very practical meaning because between 1964 and 1973, 2.2 million young Americans were drafted, and many of them went to fight in Vietnam. The love part of it was less about love, more about less prudery and hypocrisy about sex. The underlying philosophical message was that we should resolve our problems not by fighting but by cooperation, preferably the amiable one.
Times have changed. Fighting is back in fashion, big time. In today’s America, the slogan of the day seems to be: Make war out of everything possible. We do not resolve our political differences anymore by analyzing the problems and trying to understand the arguments of others having different ideas. We have reached a point that before we even know that there is a problem, we already know that we are right, and our usual opponents are wrong.
By its nature, politics is contentious. But its inherent combativeness is still better than resolving our problems by killing each other. By design, in a democracy, we should settle conflicts by the power of arguments; whoever presents the more convincing reasoning wins. In an imperfect reality, often, people follow the demagogues, not the facts and logic. The old quote credited to Winston Churchill, but probably not coming from him, described it the best: We can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.
People tend to vote for solutions that they wish were possible. It is assumed that after finding that what they want is impossible, people will lower their aspirations from the loftiness of glorious ideas to the practicality of mundane reality. We do not have that sense of practicality anymore. After making a mistake, Americans of all major political orientations are unwilling to reconsider their original choices. They see the failure of their political concepts in the intrigues of their opponents.
We can understand it. If an idea is flawed, the opponents do their best to talk about it. Instead of learning from the critique and adjusting their positions accordingly, people try to annihilate the voice of their opponents. We can make even a good idea better by examining it in the grueling Socratic-style debate. The scrutiny by our adversaries can weed out our bad ideas before they become an embarrassment. No one wants to do it anymore.
Instead, we have the opposite. Advocates of any political position try to convince their supporters that the opposition is meritless or has evil intentions. It deprives both sides, operating in separate echo chambers, of the constructive critique that could make their political positions more rational, plainly better. The side effect of this is that both sides offer mediocre political solutions.
Take any issue: immigration, health care, abortion rights, climate change, national debt, education, or inequality – no one is interested in confronting their political concepts with their opponents’ in an academic-style debate. Why? Because they know that skeptics can crush the logic of their argument. Behind the impasse in our politics is the sad truth that none of the major political orientations in the United States, neither of the major media platforms, offers a working solution to any of our problems.
The Supreme Court has been a noble exception. Politically balanced, it became a respected arbiter in many political disagreements. Now, when the Supreme Court might have a one-sided political bias, many Americans lament that we can lose the last standing bastion of political sanity. Two issues are mentioned as critical here: abortion rights and Obamacare.
Going back to times that even the oldest Americans barely remember, the nation has always been divided on the abortion issue. In 1973, the Supreme Court brought a temporary compromise by its ruling known as Roe v. Wade. Since then, politicians had almost half a century to observe how that solution works and pass a better law, if possible. No one made any effort to find a permanent legal solution; running over the opponents seems to be the primary aim. Some time ago, with tongue-in-cheek, I noticed that whatever public voices on this matter we might hear are about misconceptions that radicals on both sides have about conception.
When President Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act, I was among the first critics. Its fundamental premise was that the markets did not work in health care, and we needed more regulations. Many experts believed that the problem was the opposite, in too many regulations, which disabled market forces. Hence, the logical alternative to Obamacare should be in seeking the solution by restricting the government’s role, not by increasing it. But the opponents of Obamacare did not have enough imagination to present a market-based alternative. Also, afraid of losing voters, they lacked the courage to tell supporters of the Affordable Care Act proposal, at that time the majority of Americans, that they were wrong.
Preoccupied with arm wrenching in the corridors of Washington, they argued that the ACA would not work. They were right. Obamacare expanded an inferior Medicaid-style care for many previously uninsured, but it also dragged down to that level many middle-class Americans who now cannot afford adequate health insurance. As a result, the prices of health care went up; the access to care went down. For most Americans, any major health issue brings them to the brink of bankruptcy. But the health care industry is making more money than ever. Again, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Precisely the opposite of what President Obama promised us when introducing the ACA.
If the Supreme Court, with a new justice appointed by President Trump, overturns Obamacare, we will be screwed, returning to the pre-Obamacare status. If, by some miracle, the Supreme Court does not undo Obamacare, we will be screwed as well because Obamacare does not work. The only practical outcome will have been in politicizing the only remaining haven of sanity in our political system.
Both chambers of Congress have already lost our trust that they are able to put politics aside and focus on working out rational solutions to our problems. The last few presidents have not done much better, either. Will the Supreme Court lose its reputation as well?
Soon we will find out.
But, we still have guns.