Ramblins’ from the Hills & Hollers: What happens when the system is too broken to fix?

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Apart from consternation and sadness about national politics, my friend and I share feelings of apprehension and disquiet about the future. Not about the nation’s polarization, although it’s getting much worse, nor abandonment of the media’s watch-dog role in favor of running their newsrooms like activist headquarters.

Our shared worry is what happens when government truly ceases to be responsive. In other words, when government exists only to propagate itself, what happens to the people? Are we at the tipping point or past the point of no return?

Amazingly, many elected officials think they’re doing a good job of representing the collective wishes of their constituency. They manage to send tax dollars to their home districts and hold town hall meetings. But what of the nation? What are they doing for the “united” 50 states? Not as much as 20 years ago by a long shot.

Look at how basic management of the government has been overshadowed by acrimonious partisan hearings, committee investigations, special counsel uproar and unprecedented involvement by federal law enforcement agencies in election politics. National debate, in the meantime, has shifted. Basic governance responsibilities—budget, taxes, defense, foreign policy—are on the back burner while lawmakers concentrate time, effort, argument and money on social issues.

Abortion, immigration, sex, gender, hate speech, etc., form a slippery slope. Part and parcel of the noble, worthy aim of making a better, more equal nation through government intervention, social change itself is fraught with risk because of the current political system’s flaws.

In my lifetime, the best things we’ve accomplished have been civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, employment rights and rights for the handicapped. Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass legislation—but even then the new laws weren’t perfect. We’re still arguing about whether they form an umbrella under which other unfairness and discrimination can be addressed.

The lesson I learned is that social issues might or might not have permanent solutions when addressed by legislation. We inevitably arrive at the nexus of social justice: the U.S. Supreme Court, a group of judges politically appointed and labeled “liberal” or “conservative” before being confirmed in what has become a less than decorous process.

Remember that political tensions influence Supreme Court judges, despite their high and mighty rhetoric. A court majority that leans one way or another can gut a landmark decision and replace it. I also don’t believe in the bench’s infallibility.

One thing is certain: warring political parties and activist organizations will never reach consensus on social issues in the current poisonous, rancorous environment. Whatever dish is shoved down the throat of one group will be vomited back in a subsequent election cycle, so what will be accomplished without compromise? Nothing, so the courts will decide, whether for good or ill.

In the meantime, millions of Americans wait—so far with forbearance but now with patience wearing thin—for elected officials to deliver on promises to fix what’s wrong in the special-interest dominated House and Senate. They want the Swamp drained, the poison ocean diked and dried out. Oh, by the way, they also expect action on jobs, medical benefits, tax reform, education, retirement, Social Security and national defense.

If this doesn’t happen? Perhaps you’ve sensed, like we have, a growing discontent among people who identify themselves with the middle class. Some political observers and economists predict the middle class is withering away, that there will be only two classes in the future: the rich and poor.

Don’t believe it. Too many so-called experts categorize economic and social classes only on the basis of income. I maintain that the middle class is a way of thinking, a value system based on hard work, the aspiration to improve yourself and a dream that won’t allow you to be content in a social or economic classification lower than your personal expectancy.

Social scientists have estimated the number of middle-class households to be as high as 66 percent. If this huge percentage of America loses faith in the ability of the system, the members will reasonably expect change. If the system doesn’t fix itself, they will force whatever change is necessary—and it won’t be new socialist change or a continuation of the status quo.

This is the elephant in the room that special interests, social activists and the extreme wings of both parties don’t want to talk about. The worst nightmare for them would be for the great middle of American society to rise up and say, “ENOUGH!” They don’t believe it can happen, but neither did King George III until he received the Declaration of Independence.

Now, as an FYI for all the new socialists in Congress who didn’t study American history, the Declaration of Independence included several accusations and charges against the British monarch and his government. Several are worth repeating in the context of this column:

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance . . .”

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice . . .” and imposed . . . “Taxes on us without our Consent…”

Finally, and with emphasis 243 years later, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

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