Politics Is Not A Game
from the what-can-you-say dept
I spent yesterday quite numb watching the events unfolding in Washington DC, in which an angry mob of insurrectionists — egged on by the President of the United States, a few key Senators, and certain news media personalities — literally stormed the US Capitol to try to block the formality of Presidential vote counting or, worse, to overthrow the government. I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t take care of other work happening. I was witnessing the kind of history I never thought I would witness. I was angry. I was scared. I was frustrated. But most of all I was disappointed. What can you say after a day like yesterday? Most of what I could say would be covered by everyone else. Indeed, this morning I got to my desk to find that our own Tim Geigner had written the kind of post I originally thought I would write.
So this post will be a little different. It is clear by now that there is no redeeming our President even in his last days in office. He has shown that everything is about him. He literally said “we love you!” to the mob storming the Capitol. It has long been obvious that the only thing he cares about is himself — and that he views everything through the lens of “does this person like me or not.” He does not care about America. He does not care about its people. He cares about people who like him, and those storming the Capitol did so in his name, and he obviously loved it. Because, as stupid and illegal as what they did was, they were showing that they would do stupid and illegal things for him.
However, the real anger needs to be directed as his enablers. His many, many enablers. And it has become obvious that, for many of them, this is a game. This is not about governing. This is not about representing people’s interests. This is about red team v. blue team, and doing whatever it takes to win. This is not new, of course. This has been the nature of politics going back centuries. But, in the US, there were at least some limits. Some small bit of idealism, often hidden away in the back corner of the attic, highlighted by the regular peaceful transfer of power even among political enemies, that said: in the end, the greater good is more important than just winning the game.
But, for too many, that has gone away. And winning the game is all that matters — even if it destroys the entire nation. And for all the complaints I have about the Democratic Party, this is entirely on the Republican Party and its leadership. As I said on Twitter the other day, I actually prefer a divided government that can work on compromise. Despite regular accusations from people that I am whatever they are not, I’ve never been a member of either party, and I have always tried to support policies that I think will be most effective — not based on ideology, but on understanding the policy and its likely impact. That’s the way governing should work.
But the events of the last few years has shown that for too many in the Republican Party it is 100% about winning. It’s not even based on ideology — as the last four years has shown that their ideology will shift on a dime if they think it will help them win. The party of free trade flipped to be the party of trade wars. The party of small government became a huge supporter of government interference in business operations. Because it was not about ideology, it was about the game. About helping the red team win.
Much of the anger at this approach to “governing” needs to be directed at Mitch McConnell, who made it clear 12 years ago that his single driving ethos was making sure his team won and the other team lost — and then made all sorts of unprecedented moves to make that happen. But, at least when on the brink, he recognized the pointlessness of continuing to push the myth that Trump actually won when it mattered yesterday. His last minute attempts to stuff that genie back in the bottle yesterday are no excuse, but the true scorn must be reserved for those who couldn’t even do that much: Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Respected conservative commentator George Will got this part right in his Washington Post column today. Hawley and Cruz should forever be branded as seditionists after egging on and encouraging the events of yesterday, even as they came out late in the day with weak “we didn’t mean violence!” statements:
Trump lit the fuse for the riot in the weeks before the election, with his successful effort to delegitimize the election in the eyes of his supporters. But Wednesday?s explosion required the help of Hawley (R-Mo.) and Cruz (R-Tex.).
Hawley announced his intention to object to the certification of some states? electoral votes, for no better reason than that there has been an avalanche of ?allegations? of election irregularities, allegations fomented by the loser of the election. By doing so, Hawley turned what should have been a perfunctory episode in our civic liturgy of post-election civility into a synthetic drama. He turned this moment into the focus of the hitherto unfocused fury that Trump had been stoking for many weeks.
And Cruz, by organizing support for Hawley among other Republican senators and senators-elect gave Hawley?s grotesque self-promotion an ersatz cloak of larger purpose. Shortly before the mob breached the Senate chamber, Cruz stood on the Senate floor. With his characteristic unctuousness, he regretted the existence of what he and kindred spirits have not only done nothing to refute but have themselves nurtured ? a pandemic of suspicions that the election was ?rigged.?
?I want to take a moment to speak to my Democratic colleagues,? said Cruz. ?I understand your guy is winning right now.? Read those weasely words again. He was not speaking to his ?colleagues.? He was speaking to the kind people who were at that instant assaulting the Capitol. He was nurturing the very delusions that soon would cause louts to be roaming the Senate chamber ? the fantasy that Joe Biden has not won the election but is only winning ?right now.?
Here’s the important point: we know Trump doesn’t understand or care about any of this. That’s not true of Hawley or Cruz. They know. They know that Trump is off his rocker. But both of them see this as a game. It’s a game they both want to win. They’re both famous for their levels of naked greed and ambition to get to the top spot. And both have made the political calculus that the way to win is to egg on a mob of insurrectionists in the hopes that the same mob will support them in the future.
They both know that they are selling out America, harming the public, spreading disinformation, and helping to lead on a mob of insurrectionists. Because they think it’s a game and they need to win.
And that’s exactly why neither of them should be anywhere near positions of power ever again.
Both were given the biggest tests of their lives yesterday: do you make the right choice? Stand up for the Constitution? Stand up for that buried, hidden, dusty, abandoned-in-the-back-of-the-attic ideal of what America is supposed to be? Or do you take the ambitious but cowardly position of egging on the mob in the hopes that one day they will be your mob? I’ve criticized both Senators many times over the years because their actions and statements have long predicted this moment.
And, yet… in the back of my head, I still had that slight tinge of optimism that maybe, just maybe, one or both of them might look at what they had wrought and recognize that it’s not just a game and that people’s lives are at stake, and the very nature of our country is at stake, and come back from the brink and admit that perhaps they had gone too far.
This is what real leadership is about. Real leadership is about making the hard choices. The choices that are right in the face of deluded people telling you to go the other way. Real leadership is about recognizing when you are wrong, admitting it, and understanding why you made that mistake.
But neither Hawley nor Cruz did that. Both continued to attack. Cruz, bizarrely, accused Beto O’Rourke (his vanquished Senate opponent from a few years ago) of pushing for division. That is not reality. Hawley, after giving a now-famous raised fist gesture to the insurrectionist mob, stayed silent for hours before having his press team put out a weak tea statement about how he doesn’t support violence. And, as Nilay Patel correctly noted, Hawley issued a much more forceful condemnation of… infinite scrolling apps than he did of the insurrectionist mob that he helped to encourage.
And then, after the invaders were removed from the Capitol, after so much damage had been done, they both had another chance. A chance to admit that America is more than a game to them. They had a chance to show that politics is not just about winning and losing, but about governing and leading and doing the right thing. And they both failed again. They both continued to object to the results of the election that they both absolutely know are legitimate.
And, yes, there remained an astounding number of idiot House Members who also objected — often spewing debunked conspiracy theories and lies about election fraud that did not happen, and demanding investigations that already happened and proved the conspiracy theories were false — and they all deserve criticism as well (including the GOP House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy). But the Senate is supposed to be different and better than that. And beyond that, Hawley and Cruz both know better. Neither are stupid. Both have long and well documented careers. Both attended Ivy League universities. Both clerked at the Supreme Court.
And they chose to treat America like a game.
No one should ever let them forget what they did.