Monday, July 10, 2017

Fiddle Dee Dee

Consequences, Schmonsequences. They'll think about it tomorrow.

Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides... there isn't going to be any war.--Scarlett O'Hara

It's almost as if they think tomorrow will never come.

On climate change, health care, tax reform, civil rights, renewable energy, immigration, issue upon issue that directly affects their constituents, Republican legislators in both the House and Senate have acted, since taking office, as if they care nothing for the continued existence of the nation, the planet, or even their jobs. Of course, with the exception of getting far-right justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court (and only by virtue of first unprecedentedly freezing out President Obama's perfectly moderate nominee for a year, then altering Senate rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster), the first (and, hopefully, only) Congress of the Trump Era has accomplished nothing; but it's not for lack of trying. And once the health care debacle is either accomplished or shelved, they'll be moving on to the next item on the agenda they've been working toward for far longer than the six months since Trump took office.

Everything on that agenda has the potential to seriously harm not just humanity in general, but very specifically the voters who put them in office. Take the health care legislation passed by the House, and its only slightly less cruel Senate version: tens of millions of people either having their coverage cut off, diluted to the point of irrelevance, or becoming so expensive they're priced out of the market, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths per year, many if not most of them in the districts and states that elected the legislators clamoring for these bills. That's just one half of the equation that should, by itself, frighten those legislators. The other half is where the money from those enormous cuts in health care will go: into the pockets of millionaires and billionaires, freed up from the wealth taxes that were funding the Medicaid expansion and individual market subsidies. How can any Congressperson or Senator not reel at the prospect of explaining to a grieving constituent why larding up some tycoon's already obscene fortune was more important than paying for the therapy that would have saved her baby's life? How can the Republican Congress not foresee the campaign ads that will proliferate in the days ahead, depicting the stark contrast between where the money is now going and the many victims of that shift?

Of course, compared to the state of the climate, and what's going to happen in coming decades to the southern and southwestern states that elect most of the Republicans in Congress, health care is a drop in the bucket. Smaller airplanes have been grounded by heat in Phoenix. A few extra summer degrees in the humid states will increase death rates for the elderly, the most reliable part of the Republican voter base. And as waters rise, the Gulf Coast will begin to recede. Florida will cease to exist altogether. That's assuming, of course, that temperature increases can be held to just two degrees--a goal President Trump has laughed off. What happens to that Republican Congressional majority when so many Republican voters find their homes literally underwater, themselves dying of heat stroke, and with (again) no medical attention thanks to Trumpcare?

It's as if, rather than working for the interests of their constituents, all those Republicans on Capitol Hill are having a frat party, with bad policy their liquor of choice. Responsibility, concern for consequences--such things matter only to the losers on the other side of the aisle. Tomorrow? Why worry about that? We're having so much fun right now!

Maybe that's the explanation: these legislators are teenagers on a binge, denied power for so long (first by a Democratic majority, then by a stodgily responsible Democratic President) that they have no idea how to exercise it properly. They're legislating with their ids, clueless about how their actions will affect the people they're supposed to be representing.

I think there may be another, more sinister explanation, though: Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan weren't sure they'd even be leaders of their respective chambers, let alone that they'd have a President willing to sign their legislation. Hillary Clinton wasn't supposed to lose, and Trump's unpopularity, coupled with historically low approval ratings for the previous Congress, were supposed to give Democrats a majority in one, if not both, houses. Having more, rather than less, power was not in their plans.

Couple that with the growing realization that this President is rapidly losing any of the independent votes that put him in office, while committing daily sacrilege against the institutions of the nation he swore to protect, and it becomes painfully clear just how tenuous that power is. November 6, 2018 is bearing down on the GOP like an express train nearing a crossing, and they're finding themselves stalled on the tracks. They really have just the next few months to get anything in part of their agenda across Trump's desk. Perhaps they realize that, should any of their agenda make it into law long enough for voters to see through the thin veneer of spin and mendacity, the consequences to their majority will be lethal. But then again, chances are good they wouldn't keep that majority, anyway. Midterm elections typically go against parties in power, and that's even when they follow a new President's honeymoon year. 2018 will come on the heels of a year of Trumpian bluster and incompetence that is unrivalled in American history. Assuming Trump is still in office, voters wanting to punish him for ruining the country will take out their frustration on Congress.

Beyond that, the Republican party may not be long for this world. There are at least three significant factions pulling it apart: the traditionally business-oriented establishment; the hard-line no-tax rebels of the Tea Party; and the white working class nationalists who elected Trump. The fractiousness of the Democratic party is conventional wisdom, as it has tended to value diversity over unity. Republicans, on the other hand, used to be the party of the united front: they typically set aside their differences to bulldoze the opposition, regardless of the legislation their leaders promoted. That is ceasing to be the case. John Boehner was no saint of bipartisanship, but he was forced into retirement for the few gestures he made toward working with Democrats during his time as Speaker. It's conceivable that this brief time of superficially unified power may be the GOP's last hurrah. Four years from now, there might be three Republican parties battling over who best embodies true conservatism.

So far Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, there may genuinely be no tomorrow--or if not literally that, then no next year. If they're going to enact any of the agenda they've spent their entire political careers dreaming about, it has to be now, no matter what the cost to their constituents, their nation, and the world.

Or as Scarlett O'Hara said in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind, "Fiddle dee dee! This talk's...spoiling all the fun..."

Of course, what followed was the destruction of all she cared about, as will probably happen with the Republican party. Perhaps, like Scarlett, Republican leaders will also find themselves reduced to scrabbling for one last carrot in the remains of the plantation from which they once exercised more power than they could handle. Perhaps, like her, their hearts will be broken as, finally realizing just how morally bankrupt they are (again, like her), the voters abandon them once and for all with a "Frankly, Paul and Mitch, I don't give a damn!" And perhaps, even then, they'll put off worrying about it until tomorrow; because after all, as Scarlett says at the very end, "Tomorrow is another day."

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