Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Common Enemy For Capitol Hill--And America?

I may, at some point in the future, regret typing this or even thinking it, but doing so seems inescapable after the finale of the health care repeal debacle:

Is peace about to break out in Congress?

As much as I despise Mitch McCONnell, and I take a back seat to no one in doing so, I give everyone his props, so I'll give him his.  He tried to top The Great Supreme Court Theft with an attempt to cobble together a repeal of the most successful health care legislation in American history, one that would deprive millions of people of the ability to pay their medical bills.  He hoped to do so in a way that would prevent those people from realizing that they were being shafted, until it was too late--and that would then allow him and his colleagues to blame it all on the Democrats.  And it came within a single vote of working.

We are, I guess, obliged to John McCain for his willingness to take his obvious distaste for Donald Trump and his love of being in the spotlight and use both of those characteristics to throw a monkey wrench into McCONnell's plans.  This is said, of course, with due respect for his medical condition, which no doubt played a role in his decision to throw that wrench.  (There's another way of looking at how his health played a role in this drama, but I'll save that for a later post, perhaps.)  We own far more, perhaps, to the independence and integrity of two Republican women, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who stayed focus on the facts and the potential for harm to the voters who honored them with the opportunity to represent their interests.  Their contribution is well summed-up here.

And we especially owe a debt of thanks to the 48-member Democratic caucus, whose members decided, with the change in public opinion about the ACA, to grow something resembling a spine and not cave in to either conservative threats or mainstream media pressure to somehow "move to the center."  (That I almost definitely will have something to discuss in a future post.)   All of them made the case for keeping the benefits of the ACA in varying ways, but none more dramatically than Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.  Like McCain, she faces a deadly battle with illness, and she pulled no punches in using Republican sympathy for her plight as a broadsword against their attack on American health care.  If you have doubts about whether the U.S. Senate can still be a place for legislative heroism, you owe it to yourself to look at this.

But, ultimately, I think that the for-now-at-least demise of Obamacare repeal efforts can be credited to a highly unlikely source.

Donald John Trump, the well-known performance artist currently pretending to be the 45th President of the United States.

Trump's singular, signature combination of corruption and incompetence, and the scandal-a-day pace at which that combination has taken control of the government and our everyday thinking, is finally taking its toll on what the public thinks about him, and the extent to which it is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Take a look here and here; after just six months, his popularity (or lack thereof) is close to Nixon/Watergate levels).  It would take very little to actually get it to those levels.

Is it possible to look at the collapse of the health care repeal as a sign that Congress is finally paying more attention to the attitudes of voters than to the deference still given by the mainstream media to Trump (still expecting him to "pivot" someday)?  Despite the closeness of the final of the three votes, I think the answer is "yes."  It took every ounce of McCONnell's manipulative ability to get to that closeness, and still it failed.

But my confidence is based on something else.  Since the GOP debacle on health care, there has been a sudden outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

A bill, overwhelmingly approved, to enact new sanctions against Trump's favorite country, Russia. Another bill, also overwhelmingly approved, to prevent Trump from making any "recess appointments," which will hamper any attempt to end current investigations of his Administration by firings.  Even a somewhat wary, but real, effort to see if fixes in the ACA can be made which both Democrats and Republicans can accept.

Common enemies can be powerful unifying forces.  Communism was such an enemy for the three otherwise disparate elements of the modern Republican coalition:  military hawks, libertarian tax-cutters, and the Religious Right.  Does Donald Trump have the potential to be that kind of a common enemy for Congress and, ultimately, the American people.  Is it therefore possible that there is, in some sense, a higher purpose in having his odious presence in the White House?

Only time will tell.  My greatest fear is that Trump, as he feels more and more cornered, will be more and more tempted to respond by lashing out--perhaps even "going nuclear" in the most literal sense. So, if we can and will pull together to save ourselves, none of us should waste any time.

No comments: