The pro-wrestling aspects of American politics have morphed into a no-rules, mixed martial arts cage match.
Remember when the House and Senate would hold votes that were never expected to actually become law? Like the 20 times the then GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal “Obamacare?” Or how about Sen. Richard Shelby’s annual introduction of a balanced budget amendment?
Noble and worthy endeavors they may be, but the practical applications of such laws and amendments to the U.S. Constitution, should they ever become a reality, would result in disruptions the federal government would be unable to address.
Yet these lawmakers still go through the motions with a wink and a nod to show their most ideological supporters they’re on the right team.
The same is true for presidential politics. We’re about to embark on a 2020 Democratic primary cycle that will include perhaps two dozen candidates, all making promises they can never keep.
They will still offer lip service to the freebies millennials and crusty NPR-types love, like universal single-payer health care, free college education for all, student loan forgiveness and a number of badly misguided policy initiatives in the name of climate change.
None of their far-left policies will get passed through Congress by a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate. (On the other hand, if the Senate changes its filibuster rules, the prospect is more likely.) For now, however, this is a Congress that can’t even agree to pay the power bill.
Take the current stalemate underway in Washington, D.C., that resulted in the federal government shutdown. Over what? A demand for $5 billion for border wall funding — a vast, unfathomable amount for most Americans, but a paltry one-tenth of 1 percent of annual federal spending.
Forget about the merits of a border wall as a means to secure the border for the moment. Let’s assume this was adjudicated in 2016 (which, frankly, it was). Voters elected a president who ran with a border wall as the main plank of his presidential campaign.
Did we think that we were actually going to get a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border? A possibility for some, maybe. Congress authorized it a long time ago but would never put up the funds to build it. Those proposals put forth during the 2016 presidential campaign weren’t full-on pro wrestling, but semi-professional wrestling.
This shutdown is about the politics of the wall. Somewhere along the way, the promise to build the wall became more than the typical hollow campaign promise and is now the hill to die on for both Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats don’t want Trump to score a big win. It’s not about the money. Trump and Republicans need to show that voting Republican is not worthless.
Now that we’re at this point — with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed — we are beyond the realm of politically choreographed pro wrestling and into the territory of blood sport.
A few decades ago Congress would have struck a deal in the middle of the night, when no one was paying attention. Perhaps it would have been on a Friday night and gotten some attention on the Sunday news shows. There might have been some compromise where sections of the border got a wall, and no one would have remembered how or why.
That was the way things used to work. Politicians had to put on a show — a professional wrestling-style display. At certain levels of politics, politicians had to make it seem like they cared about hot-button issues. Maybe they did care.
Whatever the case, lawmakers would score the necessary political points and show them off to the public to secure re-election. Once they checked that box, they would back down and make a deal to keep the government functioning.
The problem is at some point voters start to catch on. They hear one thing over and over and over again but never see the results. That leads to the rise of politicians like Donald Trump — and, bluntly, wing nuts like Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
And so it has gone for Trump, a novice at how Washington, D.C., “really works.” Trump believed a lot of the things he promised.
The Democrats will perhaps soon get their version of Trump. That is, a candidate that will make promises popular to the base and go to the mat to fulfill those promises.
Once that happens, all bets are off for bipartisanship. The ideological stripes won’t be the apparent false-flag operation that is nothing more than a means to get elected. Instead, the stripes will be battle colors.
That’s not to say bipartisanship is always a good thing. Just because two sides agree doesn’t make it correct. Bipartisanship is at times a necessary evil. Both sides need to be able to reach agreements that allow the gears of government to function.
For now, there are some traces of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate. Following a town hall meeting in Huntsville on Saturday, Sen. Doug Jones (D, Alabama) told Lagniappe there remains some camaraderie in the Senate, which allows for some good things to get done.
“They get fractured on specific issues on occasions,” Jones said. “There’s a lot more bipartisanship that goes on in the Senate than people see. People see dueling press conferences, and they think we do nothing but just fight. But that’s not the case.”
Maybe bipartisanship isn’t dead, but it does seem like it is on life support.
When the next election campaign cycle starts, keep an eye on how many candidates run in the name of working across the aisle. That number will probably be less than it has ever been before.