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Overcoming our impulses

Jack Herrorwitz
Nov 12, 2016 · 3 min read

What it takes for both parties to avoid harming democracy at a time of dramatic power shift. Tip: Democrats shouldn’t take their cues from “V for Vendetta.”

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I was one of the all too many from overseas to whom the ascent of Donald Trump has been a reliable source of anguish. After the Brexit referendum came down with its close polls and last-minute plot twist, what remaining prospect we had for a respite had vanished. Though many of us feel shattered now, feeling what should’ve been the glass ceiling instead, no one can afford to postpone a soul-searching for very long.

According to The Atlantic’s David Frum, it was in large part our disengagement from our small-d democratic customs and institutions that allowed Mr Trump to slip through all the stages of the selection process. Amid the harsh noise and political machinations of the campaign season, these “guardrails” were abandoned to such a degree that they were unable to fulfill their functions anymore.

Now that the GOP retains control of Congress, and soon secures a clout over the Supreme Court, there’s a real possibility that disgruntled Democrats — just as many supporters of Mr Trump have — will start railing against the public institutions.

That’d be badly missing the point however.

We need not a wholesale repudiation of the system that gives the very underpinnings of our democracy but rather an increased political engagement within it. Ms Clinton’s principal opponent throughout the primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders made the same plead to his supporters when he urged them to seek offices at the local and state level.

Granted, the laundry list of issues that need to be fixed is long. The problems include gerrymandering and the dramatic disconnect that is between the popular and electoral votes. Also, we may even need to codify some of those broken guardrails so that they become dependable parts of our political immune system again.

Faced with such a tall order, it may be much too tempting to give in to a sense of indignation and go full “V for Vendetta” on the system. The brave thing to do however is to keep their composure and start rolling up their sleeves. Suddenly they have a lot more work cut out for them than they previously did.

On the other end of the bargain, Republicans also have to check their impulses.

With the prospected appointments to the Supreme Court comes a clear control of all three branches of government. This will make it much too tempting for them to slip into a zero-sum mentality. Self-restraint though isn’t just virtuous but also is a long-term investment in a political system that the GOP itself is a part of.

A history rich in Congressional obstructionism may not give us much ground for optimism here. What sliver of hope we have left nonetheless lies with the fact that Mr Trump didn’t get to pick the down-ballots himself. Congress therefore still has the capacity to act as a guardrail against the more erratic aspects of his leadership. Perhaps the last one still standing.

The article also appeared on

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