“The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into shadow.” – Theoden son of Thengel, Seventeenth King of Rohan, from the Lament for the Rohirrim
I don’t know how to fix Washington. I don’t really believe Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders could “fix” the capital either. A politically-inept Trumpian Washington, shouldered by the most inexperienced, wealthiest, most daunting government in the history of our country, seems doomed to fragment our political soul even more.
Frankly, it is even difficult to point to the exact problems in Washington apart from their alleged summations in glare-inducing buzzwords like “spending” and “militarization” and “polarization”. The roots of these problems run too deep, are too hidden in backrooms, are too subliminal in lobbying agendas and secret clubs and handshakes to be spotlighted and done away with.
In the gray haze of the present American political maladroitness, however, I feel certain that the problem is not that Washington is too ethical.
This, however, seems the thesis behind Congress’ stalled decimation of the Office of Congressional Ethics—an independent body established in 2008 after a particularly vile outburst of legislative scandals.
The move came as a surprise. No warning. No debate. Just an announcement to kill off the Committee’s power.
After hours of citizens’ revolt against the measure, GOP officials rescinded the order. This, of course, matters. Call it a victory for the people. But the event is not something to brush off as a close call. It’s a premonition.
The point is not that this authoritarian measure hasn’t been enacted (yet); the point is that our officials chose, in a secret meeting, to go ahead with it without consideration for the will of the people, stymied only by public outcry. Their actions reveal their desires. We should not expect these desires to change. They will arise again, continually. But will our resistance?
We can learn a lesson from this episode, the first planned corruption of the first session of the first congress of the new year. A lesson in what’s coming, what we can do to resist evil with good, and what will happen if we don’t.
What was the purpose of this out-of-nowhere move? It’s not as though the government can say, now or ever, “We don’t need oversight anymore.” There is no reason to believe ethics on the Hill has been cleaned up enough to warrant scrapping ethical observers and regulators.
The most obvious reason for undercutting ethics watchdogs and independent surveyors is that the under-cutters have something to hide. If what they are doing or plan to do is ethical, why did they show up on January 1 with the mission to demolish the ethics board?
It is a sad irony that the GOP, long hailed (at least self-hailed) as the protector of the swamp’s moral high ground, seeks to gut the most important ethics defense system in Congress. Plain and simple, whether it intends to or not, the leadership of the party of the Moral Majority is paving the way for immorality.
Like always, I don’t want to be a doomsayer. Maybe everything will turn out fine. Maybe corruption will be rooted out, budgets will be balanced, a Republican-dominated everything will bring a semblance of clarity and integrity to the national political atmosphere. Maybe.
But I don’t see how a move like this (thwarted though it was), or filling the cabinet with K Street insiders and Wall Street billionaires, or limiting press access, or tweeting backhanded frivolities, or needlessly agitating both our allies and our rivals, or pedaling directly backward on campaign promises and eight years of “where is the morality!” rhetoric, can be steps toward mending a maimed American management system.
It is integral to liberal democracy to maintain a program for holding representatives accountable for their actions. Two weeks before Trump’s inauguration and it looks like we are not building up that program. We are not stagnant in it. We are getting rid of it.
As we know, street gangs have no ethics committees either. They make it harder to steal and deal.
Despite the rhetoric I grew up hearing in school, I learned abroad and in the real world of political adulthood that no one outside of the United States sees our country as a moral leader. Increasingly, no one within the United States will see us that way either.