While bargaining across party lines used to be called compromise and the U.S. Congress actually produced legislation aimed at national problems, the Republican Party was captured in the 1980’s by the Conservative movement. This movement is driven by ideologues who believe in a puritanical small government with no power to regulate the economy. This is a much more rigid ideology than the previously vague preference for states rights and lower taxes. The donor class in the Conservative movement punishes deviation by threatening a primary challenge amply financed by the donor class. This makes the Republicans in Congress resistant to compromise on movement issues. The Democrats are left with no one with whom to bargain. Democratic legislators face a wall of opposition to their proposals.
The regular order no longer exists. John McCain is totally correct. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the House Speaker Paul Ryan determine what legislation is considered within their own offices. The Committee system, which gave a voice to members of both parties, has withered. The opportunity to persuade members of both parties of the wisdom of a particular policy has disappeared into the bowels of the leadership offices. This leads to frustration and hostility among the rank and file, while they are given marching orders to support or oppose a given piece of legislation. The threat of a primary challenge looms large. The majority and minority are both frozen by that threat.
Adding to this foul brew is a president without much grasp of policy or history. He can believe two opposing ideas at the same time, and follows the path to maximum self enhancement. For this we can be grateful, for he fouls up the march to dismembering the government’s power to regulate the financial and energy industries, the primary goal of the Conservative movement.
Saying all this, there is no mystery at the failure of government to take action in the face of disagreement. Until the Conservative movement accepts compromise, or the Democratic Party adopts laissez faire economics, we will see disfunction. The policy choices are now clear, a condition which Newt Gingrich enshrined. Issues of class and race can cloud economic Darwinism for a while, but unrest is more likely as poverty grows.
Who is to blame? In a democracy the voters must take responsibility for the results of their action or inaction. We can invite media to examine how it frames issues to inform the public, but the public has a market full of distractions to pick through. More people work longer hours with little attention available to absorb the gush of coverage. Elected officials either live with the system or resign, but they follow the votes to ensure reelection. So if there is some glint of escape from this treadmill, it lies with the public and not with some miracle of leadership in Congress. DACA recipients don’t vote, so the rest of us will have to use our weight at the polls to extend relief to them.