While President-elect Donald Trump is no friend of accountability (still waiting for those tax returns, Wikileaks), his coattails have unintentionally delivered a strong dose of accountability to Washington. In fact, a Republican president and Congress are a gift for Democrats and the rest of the country. Trust me, read on.
Power Corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
Let’s get right to basics. The United States Constitution is built on one foundation: those with power will try to abuse it and, therefore, the system needs checks and balances. Setting aside the structural checks and balances, this insight also applies to the two-party system. When all of the relevant government players are from one party, the temptation to overreach increases dramatically.
As you may have noticed, our elected representatives are fond of talking a good game and then doing little for the public good. All talk, no good action. A politically divided system plays into this scenario by encouraging finger-pointing across the aisle. If in fact one of their choices fails, it is most convenient to have someone from the other party to blame. For example, the reason Congress has done next to nothing for 8 years is all President Obama’s fault.
This dynamic is now disrupted, because everything that comes out of Washington for the next two years will be solely attributable to the Republican president and Congress. They will have no place to hide whether they do something or nothing. Let’s consider some examples straight from the campaign.
Repeal Obamacare or Not to Repeal Obamacare
Trump promised to “repeal Obamacare.” There will now be a Republican House and Senate that can get right on that. Let’s say they do what Trump has promised again and again. Back to the good ol’ days: those with pre-existing conditions can be denied coverage; children won’t be able to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26; and those without coverage can rush back to our emergency rooms for ordinary ailments. In other words, the overreaching of “repeal Obamacare” will undoubtedly result in backlash. Whose fault is it? Republicans!
Alternatively, let’s say they don’t “repeal Obamacare.” Either they tinker or they dither. That makes Trump look like a blowhard incapable of leading and both houses still part of the fine tradition of obstructionism that lit up the electorate. Whose fault again? The Republicans!
Wall or No Wall?
Trump campaigned hard to build a wall on the Mexican border, with no price tag because Mexico would pay for it (an offer already rejected). We can now have such fun with the wall, as Trump would say. Let’s say Trump proposes legislation to build the wall, which has been projected to cost many billions. Congress passes it, and then has to increase the already extraordinary deficit to pay for it, or the members pass it and then never appropriate the funds because they don’t have them. Whose fault? The Republicans!
Or let’s say no Republican mentions “the wall’ again in Washington now that they have ascended to a veritable platform of power. This aesthetically simple (er, simple-minded) approach to illegal immigration fades into the background. In the eyes of the voters who were galvanized by the idea and who believed Trump the “straight-talker,” the disappearance of the wall would make Trump look like a charlatan and both houses ineffectual. Whose fault will it be for failing to solve the illegal immigration problem in one fell swoop? The Republicans!
Jobs and Tax Cuts!
Then there is what appears to be the catnip of this election: Trump’s guarantee of 25 million new jobs, record-setting growth, and lower taxes for all. He even threw in a time guarantee: within 10 years. In his own words: “It will be amazing to watch . . . .You watch, it’ll happen.” Why, yes, it will be. Let’s say Trump and Congress hit just one of those goals. They can puff up their chests and claim victory. On the other hand, it will be a 66 2/3% failure. Or say they hit a portion of each: to the results-oriented electorate, the portion they miss is a heaping portion of failure.
Or let’s say that Trump starts slashing away at federal regulations to spur the economy as he promised, with Congress applauding (in part because it saves them so much work). Then it turns out his unilateral moves land in court and the 10-year race to a robust, first-of-its-kind economic recovery in this century, starts to look like a 20-year crawl. Whose fault will it be that his voters on November 8 don’t actually get the benefit of his economic promises? Not the Democrats. The Republicans!
In short, intentionally or not, the electorate has placed Washington Republicans under a bright and unrelenting spotlight. Moreover, one upside of Hillary Clinton’s loss is that Republicans will have no evil woman to blame for their failures! Instead, Republicans and their policies will be utterly exposed as a suitably-chagrined national media listens carefully to each and every syllable uttered by this new triumvirate, weighing seriously what it all means at each step. That, my friends, is true accountability.
Yeah. The checks and balances in place limits accountability somewhat but that comes with something of a price.
While this generally strikes me as right on, I imagine the Senate Democrats will filibuster some of the more extreme proposals.