The death last Saturday of U.S. Sen. John McCain was immediately memorialized and mourned by politicians and people from all corners of the political spectrum. The longtime national elected official, former presidential candidate and party nominee, and prominent Republican policy voice is also being celebrated in the vernacular of the legislative body as the last “lion” of the Senate.
“Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd declared on Sunday that the nation is unlikely to see another member from the upper chamber of the national legislature bestowed with that honorific anytime soon. Todd’s assessment seems particularly accurate given the extraordinarily low esteem the public holds both parties inhabiting both ends of the U.S. Capitol.
Ted Kennedy, who died nine years to the day prior and of the same brain cancer ailment as McCain, is considered to likewise have been of similar distinguished contribution and praised for the same distinctive comity. Kennedy and McCain, although they disagreed mightily on many issues, were both personal friends and occasional legislative collaborators.
Congress, of course, now merely replicates the swirling cesspool of what public discourse has devolved to outside the marble confines beneath a majestic dome. Former traditions of cross-aisle personal camaraderie and legislative cooperation are a quaint notion as partisans on both sides are entrenched in stubborn unwillingness to work together.
There is no longer a middle ground, despite political moderates constituting election-deciding voters. Not within the House or Senate chambers and not in the echo chambers of our living rooms, dining tables, or social circles. Politics has been reduced to constant toxic warfare, hyperbolic castigation of political opponents, angry name-calling and ugly personal belittlement. “If you don’t agree with me, there’s something wrong with you,” may as well be tattooed on too many foreheads.
The generally anticipated outcome of the upcoming midterm congressional elections portends not only more of the same, but worse.
The likely modest-margin re-capture of the House by Democrats, while Republicans are predicted to maintain and possibly enlarge their control of the Senate, means only that gridlock will continue to prevail.
If you think nothing gets accomplished now, just wait until after the election.
Not only will this pitiful state of politics ramp up to an even more embarrassing and enervating level, our national debate will be immediately consumed by two things: whether President Trump is impeached, albeit perhaps not removed from office, and the next presidential election.
Plus, the two dozen or so anticipated Democratic candidates for president, primarily congressional personalities and comprising a lackluster cast of characters with policy positions outside the mainstream, will quickly start shoving one another out of the way in a mad race toward the cameras and attempt to gain attention and traction. As with Republicans and those on the right, leftist Democrats will relish in outdoing one another by propagating outlandish proposals too extreme for the majority of moderate voters.
Not only will gridlock continue to prevail and further harden, the average voter’s disgust for such a spectacle will both deepen and broaden.
That will prove true regardless of whether Trump can, or will choose to, seek re-election to a second term.
Most surprising, and what many of us don’t acknowledge or accept, is that Trump could be re-elected. Despite last week’s damning legal developments, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey indicates Trump’s approval numbers have never been higher and are nearing the even-split of the nation. On economic issues, the Real Clear Politics average of respected polling gives Trump majority approval. Even Trump’s support among African Americans has steadily increased, if only incrementally, to a percentage now in double digits.
The real question, though, well beyond Trump’s political support or electoral viability, is whether the institutions of a democratic republic can survive the shenanigans of a national government that no longer functions.
On that score, Trump does indeed matter. The legacy of John McCain, whether you liked him or not, matters more.