On Capitol Hill, conservatives and liberals alike are on board to restore order in Congress. The liberal campaign finance reform community has shown a renewed interest in strengthening the party. Scholars and commentators get a good insight into politics through effective organisers and cohesive organisations and are appalled.
President Trump has proposed a massive fiscal package, and Democrats and Republicans are bursting at the seams with their opposition to it. The extreme opposition of House Republicans appears to be manifesting itself in the passage of $1.2 trillion in tax cuts for the rich and a tax increase for the middle class. A Senate Republican was defeated by a primary challenger and created a network of business allies to counter the Tea Party. As things continue to unravel, nobody can get away with it, especially with the presidential election just months away.
The factional coercion that Washington and Madison warned about is tearing the country apart, and investors are clamoring for some sort of certainty, or at least leadership. The Fed is no ammunition, the US government has been tapped on fiscal policy, and the economy is in dire straits, so investors are demanding some sort of security – at least some leadership, but not much more than that.
In fact, the chickens have come home to sleep, and this time they are infected with a deadly virus. As a disorder of the immune system, Chaos Syndrome magnifies other problems and turns a common cold into pneumonia.
In recent decades, public opinion has been sharply divided along partisan and ideological lines. Chaos syndrome has exacerbated the problem, as a flood of outside money to finance extremist primary challenges has made Republicans and Democrats think twice, even if they can find something to work on together.
There is a neurotic hatred of the political class, but there is little sign that this is the result of any real change in public opinion, or even a change in political ideology. At least since the time of Andrew Jackson, uprisings have brought new ideas and new participation to our political system.
There is also a sense that insiders have lost control of the presidential nominating process and the political class in general, as well as the media.
In 1964 and 1972, to the horror of party regulars, the nomination went to an exciting party activist who predictably suffered epic defeats. Early primaries in which one of the two remaining candidates for the nomination was not a Democrat in the truest sense of the word. The New Hampshire primary was called the day before, just three months before the election.
If it had been the Democrats who had chosen their party’s nominee, Sanders’ candidacy would have collapsed within days, if not hours.
Sanders demonstrated a new principle: political parties no longer have comprehensible boundaries or enforceable norms, and renegade political behavior thus pays off. Everyone is worried about being the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, who shockingly lost the 2014 primary to an unknown Tea Party candidate. By closing themselves off securely in their constituencies, incumbents are shielded from broader challenges – challenges that could draw them to the political center. They are vulnerable to being marginalized by extremists, not vice versa.
Lawmakers are less likely to vote for anything that increases the likelihood of a primary challenge, which is why raising the debt ceiling or passing a budget is so difficult.
Under the British parliamentary system, the constitution does not provide for holding politicians accountable to one another. Purist groups today often have the whip hand, but unlike the elected bosses of yesteryear, they are accountable only to themselves, and are only meant to prevent, not organize, legislative action.
American politicians were independent actors, and became even more so when the Electoral College was neutered by later reforms and direct Senate elections in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This essential political structure, which we take for granted, is not mentioned in the Constitution. If the Constitution were all we had, politicians would not be able to organize themselves to perform even routine tasks.
As the influence of intermediaries wanes, politicians, activists, and voters become more individualistic and unpredictable. Chaos has become the new normal in campaigns for and against the government. We have begun to hold politicians accountable to one another and to prevent everyone in the system from pursuing their naked self-interest all the time.
The problem is that chaos syndrome destroys the system’s ability to absorb and channel disruption, and not just in the political arena.
Leave aside the fact that both Goldwater and McGovern were esteemed figures in their parties as ideologues. Both senators and candidates wanted to disrupt the normal functioning of government. Grumet likes to point out that the president signed the new law, but he did it in the middle of the night.