Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.
After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.
Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.
And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.
Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.
But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.
These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.
And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.
Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.
The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.
And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.
Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.
It was brilliant and typically shrewd for the author of The Art of the Deal to take the very first offer the Democrats made and ask for nothing in return.
.. Less obsequious observers on the right claimed that this was the long-prophesied moment. The seventh seal had been broken. Donald Trump was “pivoting” at last. “The pivot is real and it’s spectacular!” proclaimed Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist.
.. The former New York Democrat holds no deep love for ideological conservatism, and many of his favorite issues — protectionism, infrastructure, etc. — are more naturally part of the Democratic portfolio.
.. For years, Republicans said that if they could win both Congress and the White House, there’d be nothing they couldn’t do. Whether this was a lie or just wishful thinking is debatable. Regardless, they failed for several reasons.
- The Republican majority in the Senate is much narrower than the Democratic majority was when Obama was elected.
- Many GOP leaders never thought Trump would win, and so they hadn’t prepared for victory.
- Also, the Republican party is divided along a host of fault lines,
- and a large swath of the Republican caucus has no experience at actually governing.
- .. The problem is there’s another reason Congress has disappointed the president and his most ardent supporters: Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.
.. Trump is “being pulled in a bunch of different directions, and because he doesn’t have any strong ideological anchor, or deep knowledge of the issue, he ends up sort of not knowing what to do.” Instead, the president goes with his gut on everything, letting himself be baited by negative TV coverage.