Aug. 21 (UPI) — In politics, contradictions abound. Today’s opponent is tomorrow’s ally. Yesterday’s denial is today’s policy. Yet the linkage, tensions and symbiotic relationships between politics and policy are the heart of governing. That is one of many reasons why the United States is in such deep trouble and its broken government has floundered in providing viable solutions desperately needed by its citizens.
Politics is the art of the possible in which leadership is vital to stretching the bounds for policies that may seem beyond conventional political limits. Policies are the statements that drive actions to deal with the issues and challenges facing society. But when politics become dominated by extremes — left, right or irrational — no policy can navigate safely between and among these rocks and shoals that will sink or incapacitate the ship of state.
In essence, the reactions between and among politics and policy have become political plutonium capable of massive radioactive detonations. Trump administration policies are driven by the idiosyncratic and narcissistic nature and behavior of a president who believes himself to be infallible in judgment and decision steering by no known compass other than instincts developed over 50 years running a one-man real-estate and self-promoting business.
These politics have transformed the Republican Party into a grotesque version of what Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan believed. No president has been labeled a racist and white supremacist by seemingly serious people in modern times, irrespective of the president’s true beliefs. Seventy-five years of American global leadership have evaporated as America First policies upended Republican pursuit of engagement abroad in which allies were supported and not criticized without good reason and fiscal responsibility at home as this year’s budget deficit will exceed a trillion dollars.
With two dozen Democrats running to challenge the president in November 2020, it is impossible to deduce the politics of that party except that the far, far left certainly is fighting above its weight class. That induced policies from healthcare for all; wealth taxes; immigration reform to include citizenship for those here illegally; free college tuition at public universities; student loan forgiveness; and a Green New Deal that will cost many tens of trillions of dollars. While the intent may be admirable, the arithmetic is not. These policies are unaffordable and unworkable in the extreme.
Further, the ideological and therefore the political divides between left and right and Republicans and Democrats are at this stage unbridgeable. Worse, the partisan and pernicious state of politics means that whatever one side proposes is to be fought to the political death and opposed as vehemently and harshly as possible. As bad, virtually no policy, however viable, is likely to be unchallenged by a lawsuit or legal action, further crippling and disabling a government that is impotent to act in the nation’s best interest.
As predicted, the House is beginning an impeachment inquiry in part to obtain documents and information the president has refused to make available. From his perspective, the specter of impeachment will improve his chances of re-election as he believes he is innocent of any high crime or misdemeanor and that Democrats will alienate the electorate sufficiently to guarantee four more years and possibly make the House red again.
It is hard to recall when the clash between politics and policy has been greater. Certainly the early years of the republic when the original 13 colonies were fragile and vulnerable to foreign intervention were politically charged. The Civil War was indeed the greatest crisis the nation faced in which policies of separate but equal and politics of free or slave could never co-exist. But more than a century and half later, the scars are not fully healed given the white-hot debate over the Confederate flag and statues honoring rebel generals, reflections of what many fear is a resurgent of racism and white supremacy movements.
Some argue that divides between policy and politics and the damage done by Donald Trump’s presidency even if he is given another four years will heal. Others fear the damage is irreversible, especially to making permanent the political divisions among the nation and its citizenry.
It is trite to reconcile these radically opposed views about the irreversibility of the damage on the grounds that time will tell. Time may not be the appropriate metric. With the election still some 15 months away, Democrats will eventually congeal around a candidate. But whether that candidate will have resolved the contradictions among politics and policy in his or her party may be the single most important guide to the nation’s future.
Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His latest book is “Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts.” Follow him @harlankullman.