“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

– George Washington, George Washington’s Farwell Address.

As is apparent from this quote, Washington was untrusting of political parties, and the affect they would have on the newly formed United States.  It was his fear of political warfare between parties that caused him to pursue a second term in office.  He was fully prepared to retire in 1792, but the strife between the Democratic-Republicans – led by Thomas Jefferson – and the Federalists – led by Alexander Hamilton – compelled Washington to stay and keep the county stable through his leadership.

The common political commentary of today is that we are living in a time of hyper partisanship may reinforce Washington’s belief that political parties are detrimental to the country’s ability to function fairly and adequately.  We’ve spoken at length about the powers of the presidency, checks and balances, the restrictive power of the Constitution, etc., but what we haven’t discussed is whether those entrenched systems can survive a political environment that’s entirely party driven.

I have no delusions about what politics was like in eras gone by.  I’ve heard some commentators tout the past as a time of jolly cooperation, nice luncheons, and political Kumbaya, but I know that the business of pushing party agendas has been a constant in the American political system since the very beginning.  The game of party politics has always been an exceedingly volatile and dirty one.  However, in recent years, we have seen many instances of the wishes of political parties taking precedent over long established rules and norms of the U.S. government.

During the first seventeen years of the 21st century, we’ve seen an almost complete dismantling of the filibuster, such as in the recent case of the “nuclear option” being unleashed upon the process of Supreme Court appointments.  Then there’s the cultural concern of the polarization of issues that would historically be taken seriously by all parties involved.  We can see this in the turmoil surrounding the current investigation into Russian involvement during the 2016 election.

I apologize to who ever said this, as I don’t remember exactly who it was, but I once heard someone ponder out loud as to whether Nixon would have ever resigned if Watergate happened in today’s political climate.  To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer.  It seems to be the new norm to stick by a party’s president no matter his weaknesses or wrongdoings.  “To critique is to be weak” should be the mantra of Congress.  “Hey there, possible candidate! It’s not necessary to be the smartest, most moral, or most qualified – you just have to be one of use, with a big beautiful R or D next to your name!”

The question concerning Nixon brings me back to my original thought, and Washington’s original worry: can the established system of American governance withstand blind devotion to political parties?  If Special Counsel Robert Mueller were to come out tomorrow and confirm all of the Democrats allegations about Trump and Russia, would anything happen?  Could the Republican Party – both its leaders and it voters – find it within themselves to even believe Mueller at all, and turn against Trump?  Or, would the right-wing rallying cry of “Fake News!” rock the political foundation of the United States, and allow business as usual to continue?

Frighteningly enough, as with the Nixon question, I really don’t know what the outcome would be.  After all, I believe in the system – which is not something you often hear from people of either political party.  It would seem to me that the guidelines of governance put in place by the Founding Fathers, which were continued and altered by those that came after, are capable of functioning, but they require independent minds with the urge to do the right thing to function properly.  However, if the “right thing” suddenly becomes less about upholding the word of law and the Constitution, and more about upholding the word of the party platform and party leaders, then there’s no longer any neutral influence to look to for the right answer.

Now, I realize that all sounds quite dire, and I sound like I’m worried.  Well, it is quite dire, and I am worried – it’s the kind of person I am, just ask my girlfriend.  However, I don’t think I’m the only one that should be worried about this trend of deconstructing political safeguards for the purpose of scoring political points and expediency.  In my eyes, the very people who enacting these “nuclear options” and stripping power from the minority should be worried as well.  They probably would be if only they weren’t falling prey to power-induced shortsightedness.

You and I have privately discussed the ever-present problem of political shortsightedness before. If I remember correctly, we were discussing the Christian right’s call for “freedom of religion” laws.  For those who are unfamiliar, these are the laws that would enable Christian business owners – who are the target demographic of these pieces of legislation – to refuse service to those whose beliefs and lifestyle are in opposition to their religion.  In an effort to retain one of their largest voting blocs, the Republicans have been loudly championing this cause.

In our discussion about these laws, we agreed that their establishment may grant the religious right a sweet victory against the left, but with that comes the possibility for further complications in the future.  If you pass laws that allow for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of your religious beliefs, then you allow people with different religious beliefs to discriminate as well. So, maybe one day down the road, they could – I don’t know. I’m just spit-balling here – discriminate against you because your beliefs aren’t conducive with theirs! Not only is it a slippery slope, but you’re arming your “enemy” for a war that’s yet to be waged.

This is exactly what both parties have done when they’ve held majority positions within the federal government.  They’ve stripped away the tools of the minority while in power, and then they face the repercussions when they’re out of power, which perpetuates a cycle of passing and dismantling the same pieces of legislation over and over again.  It’s not even as if the parties have to obtain the ability of clairvoyance and look into the future, as the political chicken has come home to roost many times in the past.

During his fight to construct the bill that would later become the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama told an oppositional force within the Republican party that “elections have consequences.”  Those three words are what must be in the back of every congressman’s mind when contemplating the permanent suppression of the minority.  Congress must remember that many Founding Fathers saw the rule of the majority as dangerous, which is why they worked to amplify the voice of the minority.

With the increasing power of the presidency, further politicization of the Supreme Court, and the rampant urge to protect the party before the country, the federal government needs more students of history. For if you’re not a student of history, you’re a slave to it.

 George Washington's Farewell Address

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