They almost did it. The Republicans almost plunged not just the United States, but the world, into economic chaos because they don’t want people to be able to purchase affordable health insurance. The deal announced today in Congress will reopen the shuttered government, and raise the debt ceiling for the next couple of months, without gutting the Affordable Care Act. That’s good, but the crisis in Washington is not over. That’s not just because today’s deal is only a short-term solution, destined to become a fight once more around Christmas. Or because this type of government-by-crisis seems to be the new normal. Rather, it’s because, after over 200 years of Constitutional governance, an extreme minority of one party has found a way to manipulate the lawful actions of Congress to shut down the government and threaten world stability because it disagrees with settled law. This is a big deal, because it means that the way in which we govern has been shown to be fundamentally flawed. That is the very definition of a Constitutional crisis.
The tea party Republicans and their enablers in the party are a dangerous bunch. When I write the following, please understand that I do not do so lightly. In his 2008 book, Brave New War, John Robb describes the goals of intrastate terrorism during the Iraq War as not causing the deaths of innocent people, but rather showing that the government in power is incapable of governing. Every time a bomb blew up either a wedding reception or an electrical substation, the insurgents wanted to paint the government as incompetent and incapable of providing either safety or services to its citizens. Nevermind that the insurgents were the real cause of such chaos; they hoped the government would get the blame. Republicans in Congress are operating in a similar fashion. Excepting the violence, they are embracing the strategies of terrorism to undermine the capability of the United States government to do its job. They are undermining the social compact of the United States in service of an ideology whereby society, through government, has diminished capacity to ensure the rights we have steadily gained since the founding, and diminished capacity to pool the collective resources of the nation to use for the greater good.
It is a truly frightening prospect that the GOP came close to foisting its anarchy upon us.
And anarchy it is. In the runup to the shutdown a couple of weeks back, it became clear that the GOP never thought about their strategy beyond the word ‘shutdown.’ The House passed untenable alterations in the Affordable Care Act thinking that President Obama would cave in order to avoid a shutdown. If he had caved, delaying the implementation of the law for another year, that would have been a win for them. But he did not cave, and the government shut down, which they also regarded as a win. These are people who do not want government. Any chance to show that government is ineffective, even though government is being undermined by these very legislators, is counted as a plus. Thus you get the Orwellian scenes in the aftermath of the shutdown, when some of the very people responsible for the shutdown were seen castigating park rangers and others for denying people access to shuttered parks.
Later, when the debt ceiling became an issue, and dire warnings were issued from the tops of very tall mountains by people all over the globe, many Republicans chose to put forth the frame that either breaking the debt ceiling was no big deal, or that the debt ceiling didn’t exist at all. These attitudes are either dangerously disingenuous, or mind-bogglingly ignorant. Either way, these views fit snuggly into the idea, once again, that it would be good to undermine the functioning of the government of the United States.
Popular polling has shown that the Republicans have taken a beating over the shutdown and the debt ceiling fight. As they should. It was also unavoidable. Back in the nineties, GOP Congressman Dick Armey pointed out that Democrats would never take the blame for a shutdown, as they could never be accused of being the anti-government party. What this means for the GOP’s future prospects is unclear. After the last election, in which the Democrats beat Republicans by over a million votes in House races but still couldn’t regain control of the chamber, it was estimated that, because of gerrymandering, it would take a nine point victory at the polls to switch the House to the Democrats. The GOP, despite their wretched bungling of the shutdown, may very well go unpunished for their incompetence and their dangerously rigid views of the operations of government. That being the case — when entrenched, extremist interests can no longer be held to account for their tactics, and threaten the functioning of government — the Republic itself has run its course.
Without a radical reorganization of the national government, it will be only a matter of time, possibly months, before the razor-thin balance of this ongoing crisis falters, and the extremists cast the nation into the unknown.