Judd Gregg: Dividers will not conquer

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Paul Johnson, the brilliant English historian, concludes his book A History of the American People with this observation:


         But Americans are, above all, a problem solving people

         They do not believe that anything in this world is beyond

         human capacity to soar to and dominate. They will not

         give up. Full of essential good will to each other and to all,

         confident in their inherent decency and their democratic

         skills, they will attack again and again the ills in their

         society, until they are overcome or at least substantially

         redressed….The great American republican experiment

         is still the cynosure of the world’s eyes. It is still the first,

         best hope for the human race.


This is a resounding endorsement of America and our form of governance — and an accurate one.

It is also the exact opposite of the tenets of extreme populism that are stalking our nation’s hallways of governance today.

{mosads}This extreme populism, as practiced by people like President Trump’s erstwhile chief strategist Steve Bannon or Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), is essentially a dogma of nihilism.  

It is driven not by the optimism that Johnson so precisely described as the center of the American character but rather by dislike and even hate.

In fact — to once again use a term of art deployed by Johnson — the practitioners of these extreme approaches are populist “haters.” They speak in the negative and most often against some individual or group whom they use as their foils.

They have been emboldened by the conventional media, which has in large part abandoned the concept of balance, and by a social media movement that never had any requirement of accountability.

The rise of this extreme populism has taken our government to a point of disruption. The ordinary and necessary functions of the elected federal government are at risk.

It is not because the Republican Party has become dysfunctional that we see so little good in our governing. 

It is because all the elements that make up a constitutional government such as ours are being held captive to people who do not have the capacity — or, often, the desire — to govern.

One manifestation of this comes in the attacks on the leaders of the Senate on both sides of the aisle.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is vilified by Bannon and his acolytes in the media, such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. He is viewed as the archenemy of these populist “haters”.

This is uniquely foolish because it was McConnell’s commitment to governing, and his skill in the art, that gave the president and his most ardent followers their only real success.   

It was McConnell’s leadership alone that allowed for the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.   

McConnell made the tough call on not allowing a vote on President Obama’s final nominee to the court. He withstood tremendous criticism from the ”mainstream liberal media” (which is the vast majority of the media) for doing this. He then changed years of Senate precedent, over ardent opposition, and allowed a majority vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation.

McConnell is the only person who has delivered on the president’s agenda.   

But this is not good enough for the populist “haters.” They are not interested in supporting those who know how to use the tools of governing to make our system function.  

They are only interested in relishing their dislike of individuals or groups they have targeted for their populist anger, and in the process spreading disruption and dysfunction.

The irony, of course, is that what the extreme populists of the right claim they want to do, such as confirm conservative judges, can only be done by people like McConnell, who know how to work the system.

On the other side of the Senate aisle, a similar scenario is occurring. Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) does want legislative accomplishments, and he knows the minority must work across the aisle if it is to have any hope of attaining them.

But he is constrained in these efforts by his extreme populist left. 

Warren, as well as ideological allies like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and their followers, not only subscribe to a form of populism that does not tolerate compromise as they promote their socialist/progressive agendas. They are also propped up by a virulent hatred of the president.

Theirs is an extreme populism, like that of the alt-right. It does not allow for movement to the center.

It is a dogma with no practical goals other than to oppose. It does not countenance the practical need of compromise that is central to how a constitutional democracy works. 

They allow Schumer no opportunity to constructively engage in the art of governing and in the process close out any path to accomplishing anything.

If the Democrats are successful in taking control of the House or the Senate in the next election, they will not be any more effective then those they replace. Their extreme populists will tie up their pragmatists. They, too, will find it impossible to govern.

What is the outcome of this populist nihilism meeting our culture of American optimism? 

At this time it would appear that those who speak and act in the negative, rule.  

But this will not last.   

Paul Johnson was right. 

We are not a nation that will tolerate the negative for long. It is inevitable, because of the inherent American spirit, that leaders will move to the fore who want to take us back onto the path of optimism and goodwill.

Let’s hope this happens soon, because the American people are growing tired of the disruption of government brought to us by these extreme populists and their exaggerated diatribes that are so counter to all the good things that make our nation strong and our government work.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Elizabeth Warren Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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