Hyper-partisanship and the lack of constitutional self-restraint are the twin poisons attacking our bodies politic

30th May 2021

Some thought it was all over when Joseph Biden won the presidency – Trumpism was defeated and there could be a return to political normality.

But Trumpism is continuing – even without the presidency and indeed even without access to Twitter and social media.

Trump has gone, but Trumpism has not.

This can be seen in the failure of sufficient Republicans to support a commission to report on the attempted insurrection on the 6th January 2021.

The practical reason for this failure appears to be the effect such a commission and its report will have on the American mid-term elections.

This hyper-partisanship and the lack of constitutional self-restraint is not good for the sustainability of the body politic of the United States – just as similar hyper-partisanship and lack of constitutional self-restraint is not good for the United Kingdom and other (hitherto) liberal democracies.

It poisons the well, it pulls the rug, and so on.

The immediate political gains are at the possible expense of longer-term constitutional viability and sustainability. 

And although constitutions can be robust and rugged old things – they are not invulnerable – and it is not inevitable that liberal constitutionalism will always win out.

Brace, brace.

15 thoughts on “Hyper-partisanship and the lack of constitutional self-restraint are the twin poisons attacking our bodies politic”

  1. We need proportional representation, as does the USA. It’s not certain to protect completely against such abuses, but it’s much more likely to do so than FPTP.

    1. We need the single transferrable vote, not just proportional representation. The former is one of very many kinds of the latter. One of the most important features that we need is a system which does not give political parties more power, which is what party list systems (also kinds of proportional representation) do. Voters should be voting for candidates directly – not via an intermediary. It’s bad that a candidate gets a big boost by being the nominated candidate for a party, and we should try to minimise this effect.

      1. We have PR in South Africa voting for a party list. In this way the ANC has remained in power since 1994, and totally lost its way. We have record corruption and State Capture, on the latter two matters it certainly looks as though the UK’s Johnson Government is rapidly catching up. In our favour we do have a judiciary that has managed to remain independent and an investigative press, albeit very small, that has unearthed the corruption and state capture.

        My apology if I have gone off topic, but to reiterate, simple PR, voting for party lists is no better than FPTP in my opinion, STV should be the preferred choice, but how do you implement when the Govt with an 80 seat majority has no intention of considering it, and the official opposition is disintegrating.

        1. In RSA you have a situation where PR still results on a parliamentary majority for the ANC. In that case yes, there’s no difference to FPTP. Party list or STV, that still leaves things open to corruption. However the result is at least truly democratic in terms of the representation of voters.

          In the UK we almost never have a situation where one party gets more than 50% of the vote, so any form of PR will be a huge democratic improvement. Minority parties will get voting power in parliament in proportion to their vote share. One party cannot dominate everything even though they represent a minority of voters. I personally favour STV but I suspect if we ever do get PR it will be in a similar form to the way Scottish Parliament is elected. Most MSPs are elected with single member constituences by FPTP and other seats are filled from lists so as to produce proportional results in parliament according to vote share.

          The only was it will ever happen here is if Labour realises PR will work better for them and joins a democratic alliance with the Lib-Dems and the Greens. That way the anti-Tory vote will not be split, as it usually is and this coalition could gain power then enact a voting reform.

  2. The only people who thought it was “all over” when Biden won were the people (almost all Republicans, btw) who were trying to kid themselves that the problems with their party only started in 2016 with Trump, when they were the folk who had spent the previous 40 years riling them all up with fear so that Trump was the inevitable result (and, let’s remember, he too is only a stop on the journey.)
    As the joke goes: ‘I never expected them to eat *my* face’ sobs founder of Leopards-eating-peoples-faces Party.
    Trumpism never existed. What existed was a media eco-system so steeped in creating fear that when someone (anyone) turned up who simply repeated the scare stories that had been broadcast the night before, that audience seized upon them (“he’s thinking what we’re thinking” rather than the other way around…)
    It didn’t have to be Trump, but as a popular media brand he didn’t have to work hard to be heard. And yes, the echoes with Johnson are painfully evident too.

    1. I’m happy to admit I thought Trumpism would die when he lost too, and I’m not a Republican supporter. Like any personality cult it should have died with his demise. I thought his defeat would weaken his support. But he had made belief in the baseless lie that the election was stolen so strong that his influence survives, mainly because there is no one else credible to take over leadership of the party. Republican representatives are scared to support anything opposing this belief because most Republican voters believe it and would vote accordingly. It isn’t Trumpism as such, it’s belief in conspiracy theories.

      I think it will be different with Johnson. Conservative supporters will vote for whoever the party puts up for election. When his inevitable downfall comes it will be because his reputation and appeal have been destroyed. Trump’s reputation amongst his base has if anything been enhanced by his defeat.

      1. “It isn’t Trumpism as such, it’s belief in conspiracy theories.”
        Well yes, that’s basically what I said. It’s just that I also think that it’s a delusion to think that it only ‘started’ with Trump, but a lot of Republicans (especially those who call themselves “never-Trumpers”) want to pretend that it did. And that they won’t face up to the inescapable truth that they created the party they now don’t recognise.

        Whether that is true of the modern Conservative party is still up for debate. It seems pretty clear that the membership simply wanted someone who just said what they wanted to hear; hence their disdain for May – remember that she wasn’t elected by the membership! If the last year didn’t destroy Johnson’s position amongst the base, I’m not sure anything can – for a good while, anyway. It’s entirely possible that he will do it to himself, of course, since he clearly never likes to stick at a job for any length of time. But I’d be surprised if we reached a point where the membership were agitating for him to go.

      2. “most Republican voters believe it” [that is, the baseless lie that the election was stolen]

        Well, the polling suggests that 55 to 60% of the 36 million people who are members of the Republican party think the 2020 US presidential election was “stolen” in some sense (eg https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/24/republicans-2020-election-poll-trump-biden ) but that can be only half of the 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020. Many of the others will be among the three quarters of the US population as a whole who say otherwise. Although that still leaves a quarter of the US population as a whole believing the myth, which is quite extraordinary enough.

        All of the objections were rejected at the joint session of congress to count the votes of the electoral college, but many elected representatives seem to think it is in their interests to pander to the very visible and vocal group of people who believe this sort of nonsense. It has real consequences with many red-leaning states tightening up their voting laws to try to stop it happening again (or rather, to disenfranchise as many people as possible who might vote for their opponents).

        We shall see what happens in the US midterms soon enough.

        Meanwhile, in the UK, even the supporters of Brexit think we’ll need at least 10 years to see any of its illusory benefits.

        1. You’re splitting hairs. I saw polling that an estimated 50m Republicans thought “the steal” actually happened. That’s two thirds of number that voted for him. That remains a small minority of Americans but crucially they are people the Republican Party need to appeal to. Thus without doing anything Trump retains strong influence.

          I don’t know why you felt the need to explain why “the steal” is an obviously false belief. I certainly don’t need to be persuaded of that.

          1. Splitting hairs? Perhaps you are right – taking a closer look at the polls – I think you are referring to the one linked here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/16/americans-republicans-stolen-election-violence-trump – they appear to include anyone who “leans” Republican among the 50 to 60 percent who believe the steal myth. I find that a little hard to believe from a poll of just a couple of thousand people, and would caution against blowing up the opinions of a few hundred people into a mass movement of 50 million. The US is a large country.

            Feel the need? Well, “it” (as in the quote “most Republican voters believe it” from your previous comment) looked somewhat ambiguous without context, so I just quoted another relevant part of the previous sentence. Apologies if you felt I was trying to persuade you of something by quoting your own words back at you.

  3. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Spoken (but not originated) by Martin Luther King.

    1. I wish I believed that. Unfortunately I believe “you become what you do”. For large chunks of time what we’ve been doing hasn’t been bending towards justice.

      My evidence?
      “The hostile environment” as applied to anyone who can’t defend themselves but especially to black and brown Britons and EU citizens.
      DWP sanctioning, resulting in the destitution and death of hundreds if not thousands.
      Profiteering from Covid 19 and unsafely discharging untested patients into care homes crammed with especially vulnerable residents and carers.
      And umpteen more “for instances”.
      Thank goodness for XR and the like, providing a much needed counter-balance to the woe!

  4. Hyper-partisanship is stoked up by the press (and in the US by TV stations like Fox). Oligarch press barons plus FPTP is a toxic mixture.

  5. I remember hearing General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf, the liberator of Kuwait (from Saddam Hussein) saying, “In the end love will rule the world.” That seems very remote at present, but I cling onto it.

  6. “I doo solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” – Oath of Office, US Senate https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm

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