A Note from a Young Hopeful to an Old Relic - By Greer Clem
Today was tough. Today I looked around and thought, "I don't recognize this country. I don't know what we stand for." So I went home; I bought a mini sheet cake and I played with my cat and talked to my best friend. I let it all sit, and what I've come away with is a note for Senator McCain.
His speech today on the Senate floor after a devastating vote to proceed was historic to some, confusing to others. If you haven't read it yet, I would urge you to sit down and go through it in its entirety, both so this piece makes any sense at all and because it's a hugely important moment for our history. There were many things said in this speech, but one that still lingers in the back of my mind tonight. In front of the most important legislative body in this country, Mr. McCain stood and said:
"We are an important check on the powers of the Executive. Our consent is necessary for the President to appoint jurists and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!... America has made a greater contribution than any other nation to an international order that has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have been the greatest example, the greatest supporter and the greatest defender of that order. We aren’t afraid. We don’t covet other people’s land and wealth. We don’t hide behind walls. We breach them. We are a blessing to humanity."
I wanted to respond to this particular excerpt, because today I felt as though I was living the failed American experiment. Senator McCain standing in front of the Senate and calling out Donald Trump an equal is meaningful, but in what context? What I'm getting at is this: the American experiment that began over 200 years ago implemented a new kind of democracy, one in which gridlock was necessary to prevent overreaching authority. We began that experiment to escape tyrannical rule where one opinion blotted out the majority. And in that effort, we have been largely successful. We have indeed been a beacon of democracy and a template for cooperative legislation. But not today. What if today we began to fail?
Our system is being called on to keep power in check, and Mr. McCain may have stood in front of our nation's legislators and asked them to do this, but it may be too late. The leaders of the GOP were elected by a few to represent the many, and today we saw the consequences. Senator Dean Heller of Nevada caved to the threats of big donors. Senator Capito of West Virginia, one of the states that relies most heavily on Medicaid coverage, also caved. Who did they cave to? The many? The many would be their constituents, the ones whose healthcare is not guaranteed by political power. No, they caved to the few, the few that have been elected to uphold the democratic processes now being ignored.
Today the American experiment failed because it did not treat Donald Trump as our equal and it did not treat our senators as our representatives. Today the GOP did what they had to to get one step closer to repealing Obama's legacy because that was the campaign promise they made and that is the only one they can deliver on. Over the past several days, we saw the President publicly threaten Senators if they did not vote with their party. He stood next to Senator Dean Heller at a lunch six days ago and said, "Well, he wants to keep his job doesn't he?" In moments like these, we see American democracy failing. Checks and balances are losing their weight and, to be quite frank, it seems out of touch for McCain to stand in front of the Senate and say otherwise.
Mr. McCain, it is a wonderful thing to value American Democracy and to call for us to work together, which we certainly must do now more than ever. But are we beyond that? It's the terrifying, looming question I have been afraid to ask, but today I would ask him: is the American experiment failing? Are you too out of touch to see it? My resolve has been shaken today, less so by the vote to proceed and more so by McCain's words which ring so hollow. They are beautiful but they read like a eulogy.
It was always going to be, as it always is in all politics, that the few represent the many. But if we continue to allow those voices to be held by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence and Donald Trump, then the American experiment will fail. I don't say that to be dramatic or to scare people, but we cannot continue on blind faith that our safeguards will save us. Mr. McCain was able to make this attempt at reassurance today because his political party holds office, but what he is either unable to admit or unable to see is that the safeguards are failing.
So I'll end this note from a young hopeful to an old relic by saying this: we needed you today, not to remind us of what our system can do, but to stand up and say it is failing. I am scared to say it, but you have left me no choice, and long after you're gone, we'll be cleaning up the mess.