Mental health therapists subscribe to various theories to understand and work with their clientele. One established school of thought is based on “family systems,” and a cornerstone of that theory is the belief that the thorny behavior of the “identified patient,” whom all believe to be the source of the family problems, is actually a response to dysfunction within the family as a whole.
As I watched Donald Trump’s reaction to the recent news that Robert Mueller had concluded his investigation into the shenanigans of the Trump administration, it occurred to me that the U.S. currently is just one crushingly dysfunctional family system.
In this paradigm the President (you may have already figured this out) is the identified patient. But it’s complicated.
There are four main players in this sprawling family: The Congress, the Supreme Court, the President, and We the People, and all of us have contributed to this disarray. Trump isn’t the underlying cause. He’s just the most flagrant and savage symptom.
What roles do the rest of us play?
Let’s start with Congress, the creatures of Article I, the cornerstone of democracy, the representatives of We the People, the makers of laws, the keepers of the coffers. Heady stuff—and demanding of time and attention.
But because of our dysfunctional system—no term limits, ineffectual campaign cash constraints, demands by both parties that members of Congress spend hours every day “dialing (donors) for dollars”—legislators’ focus is too often on winning the next election and too rarely on educating themselves on the issues and making the best decisions they can for the people who sent them there. As a result, beholden to the donors whose largesse they’ve sought, their votes often reflect their devotion to their donors—and themselves.
Right now all the above is baked into the system, but congressional dysfunction is complicated by the fact that one of the major parties (and you know which one it is) has allowed itself to be taken hostage by the most unhinged, juvenile, and cruel president ever to darken the White House doors. Don’t you wonder what happens to those legislators’ self-respect? … What return they’re getting on their “investment” in moral turpitude?
Then there’s the Supreme Court, once considered the ultimate protection from injustice and power run amok. That, of course, was before we discovered there is such a phenomenon as a Supreme Court run amok: Bush v. Gore? Citizens United? District of Columbia v. Heller? Just to name a few. A majority of the court having been appointed by Republicans, this allegedly non-partisan group is a major colluder in our current dysfunction.
Of the three major players here (president, Congress, Court) the Supremes are undoubtedly the most securely insulated from outside pressures. This makes their most inexplicable rulings (money is speech; corporations are people, for instance) simply confounding. To whom are they beholden? One wonders.
It’s easy to blame all of the above for a political system that operates in chaos, rewards the wealthy with tax breaks, slashes holes in the social safety net, maintains a de facto two-tier system of justice, visits cruelty upon the downtrodden, and practices discrimination against those who are in any way “different.”
We can criticize those at the top all we want, but … we put them there. It’s up to us to sort the wheat from the chaff and elect legislators, and a president, who represent not their donors but their constituents. Not an easy task, especially in a country where education is undervalued, teachers are underpaid, test scores are king, and so many are woefully uninformed.
We all need to understand the structure and functions of government, be able to separate fact from opinion, think critically, and provide reasoned support for our opinions. How are we doing with that? What do the raucous revelers at Trump’s rambling rants tell us about their readiness to vote?
Government is serious business. Voters who prefer a bloviating megalomaniac to the serious candidates now coming forward with new ideas, clear-eyed observations, and humanitarian policy proposals clearly lack the tools needed to cast an intelligent vote. Unless we elect a responsible president and informed, articulate legislators, we’re complicit in the threatened devastation of our democratic (small “d”) way of life.
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”