Political parties “are likely, in the course of 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” (George Washington, “Farewell Address” 1797).
We are living in an age that President Washington warned us about.
Political parties do some good: keeping the opposition honest, encouraging and supporting people to run for public office, and coming up with new ideas for better government, to name three. However, there is much that is deeply troubling about our current political climate. Our political parties have been instrumental in creating that climate.
The Democrats: They are often unorganized and unrealistic. Those on the far left push for free education, free healthcare and other ways to spend taxpayers’ money without providing for a way to pay for these programs except by raising taxes on the rich. As a result, our national debt increases, putting an ever-deepening burden on future generations.
While Democrats have preached tolerance for differences, they have often been found to be as dogmatic and intolerant as any right-wing reactionary. As an example, try asking a liberal to tone down the rhetoric on identity politics, which often tend to divide, rather than unite, the country. Try asking them to be reasonable about the bureaucracy of pollution laws, or reparations for blacks whose ancestors were enslaved 150 years ago, none of whom, along with the slave-owners, are alive today. Demanding the end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement borders on foolishness.
The Republicans: There is much to admire about the past values of the party, but these values have disappeared from public discourse. Here are three: first, Republicans used to tout family values like marriage and children, accountability, and responsibility. Family values have gone by the wayside. Republicans have supported a president who represents none of those values either personally or publicly. Our president lies frequently, demeans women and minorities, separates immigrant children from their parents (as many as 15,000), and then has great difficulty reuniting them. These children will carry an emotional burden for the rest of their lives.
Second, Republicans used to promote self-discipline and self-control and courage in the face of opposition: when confronted with a president who blatantly declares a national emergency so he can build an expensive southern wall to please his base, most Republican senators have been silent and have voted against the House bill to block his overreach. Many Republicans, however, believe the wall is unnecessary. Enough in the Senate voted to roll back his “national emergency,” but the president unsurprisingly vetoed the bill, knowing Congress likely does not have the votes to override him. This is in spite of the fact that Republican passiveness will come back to haunt them when a Democratic president gets elected in the future.
Third, Republicans used to advocate fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. This was the Republican mantra for the entire presidency of President Obama: balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Yet, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency between 2017 and 2019, they passed an enormous tax cut for the super-wealthy and corporations that will increase the deficit by at least $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years. This tax cut was passed to help Republicans win the midterm elections by inflating the economy, which was only partially successful. Democrats now control the House by 40 votes.
Republicans are now stating that deficits don’t matter as the national debt rises to $22 trillion, with yearly trillion-dollar deficits forecast into the foreseeable future. How they can stomach their own hypocrisy is beyond understanding.
How can Republicans support a president who is shaking the foundations of our carefully wrought and precious Constitution? How can they sit idly by, ignoring his outrageous behavior, caring more about getting re-elected than about protecting the common good of the nation?
President Washington’s warning 222 years ago about the evils of political parties is taking place before our very eyes. If political parties are failing in their self-chosen roles, it is time for “we the people” to take back our government.