American politics miss simple truths


The news comes hot and heavy, but often the underlying truth is missed. Here are some simple truths about government today.

1. Our political leaders are too old. Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell freezes in mid-sentence. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) forgets how she wants to vote. A Democratic House member considers running against Joe Biden for the presidential nomination, because Biden’s too old.

The media pays little attention to the age of Donald Trump or Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, both of whom, if re-elected, would serve into their 80s. Is the issue skirted because they will inevitably win or have little serious competition, so why bother?

Congress is getting older. That results in a disconnect between the hopes and aspirations of Gen X and its successors and the folks running the country. The U.S. is turning into a gerontocracy, pursuing outmoded policies.

The media should be taking a close and sustained look at the effects of aging. And younger candidates should take the risk of running against the aging establishment.

2. The Democrats are afraid of Trump. If there’s one thing that unites the Democrats, it’s their fear of Trump becoming president. That’s why they rallied around Hilary Clinton in 2016. She was not popular with many of them, but she was thought to be a sure bet to keep Trump out.

Though she won a majority of the popular vote, vindicating the Democrats’ view, she lost the election, vindicating the Republicans’ math. It hurt her candidacy that she seemed to be taking winning for granted.

Biden has compiled a generally good record as president. He’s human, so he’s made mistakes and the Democrats have not strongly touted his accomplishments. But he seems to them like the best person to halt the return of “the Donald.”

Like incumbent underdog Harry Truman in 1948, Biden might look stronger after winning a nomination battle. Or, the Democrats might benefit from having a younger woman lead the ticket. Ditto, the Republicans. Imagine how different that could look.

3. The U.S. Senate is deeply undemocratic. Right now, a single senator puts a “hold” on all top military assignments, blocking any confirmations. Ending Senate debate and voting routinely requires 60 senators instead of the Constitution’s simple majority.

Both parties preserve such rules because they know that one day they will be in the minority. So we get minority rule, the opposite of democracy. No wonder people hold Congress in low esteem.

4. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Hunter Biden, the president’s unfortunate son, apparently exploited his father’s public standing for his own personal gain. That’s improper and he may have acted illegally. But there’s no proof that Joe Biden, when in or out of public office, participated in or profited from his deals.

Hunter is in trouble and his father is standing by him, but GOP attacks on their relationship may cost Biden politically. Should the president dump his son and allow his political ambition to overwhelm his family bonds? The Republicans want to put Biden in a no-win position.

5. Conspiracy theory is falsely based on the belief that if something is possible, it must be true. If logical assumptions about an action or event can be imagined, some people who would like the result, conclude it happened: if the opposition could have done it, they did it.

What’s missing from conspiracy theory is evidence. If you believe the Democrats stole the 2020 election from Trump, then you need to find the evidence. Lacking facts, the theory has failed. Yet the unproven logic still inspires Trump’s loyal followers. Conspiracy theory is a pillar of his campaign.

5. Impeachment is useless. Every run at a president has been an almost purely partisan exercise, with the House majority taking on the other party’s incumbent. Impeachment is sure to fail in the Senate, where it would take both parties to oust the president.

As the political divide has deepened, conviction by the Senate has grown even more unlikely. Now, the House GOP considers using a form of “impeachment lite” – an “impeachment inquiry” that will lead nowhere, but get media coverage. It’s unlikely to matter much.

6. The Supreme Court acts like it’s above the law. The justices have no ethics code. Justice Samuel Alito even claims that Congress can’t require the Court to adopt a code. His view would kill the constitutional idea of checks and balances and could set up an epic battle among the branches of government. The truth is that lawmakers make laws, and nobody is above them.

In philosophy, there’s a concept called “Occam’s razor.” It says that we should seek the simplest, workable explanations. Simple truths can lead to simple fixes. Maybe our political players need a good shave.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman. 

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