As explained in a previous article, according to writer Alana Newhouse the primary divide in American politics today is, more than anything, about how people tend to address societal problems. One side wants to maintain the institutional status-quo, while making incremental improvements. The other wants to tear everything down and rebuild. The below analyzes how three of the most complex issues and institutions today fit into this paradigm: immigration, crime, and the military. Image shows a group of migrants and smugglers crossing the Rio Grande in a raft near South McAllen, Texas. Photo credit: U.S. CBP/Mani Albrecht
In a recent article, I investigated the theme of “brokenism” and “statusquoism” as it relates to the increasing mistrust many have in our institutions. As I suggested, Alana Newhouse provided the basis for this examination in a November 2022 column and left me with the task of explaining where I thought this was all heading.
The debate over whether to fix or replace our traditional institutions does not present a new problem, since many on the Left have been trying to do so for at least 60 years. In swift order, our society has redefined marriage, family, and gender. Today, there is an effort to overhaul governmental foundations that have shaken the practices of generations and justified the actions of legislators, the judiciary, and the executive.
When reading Matthew Continetti’s The Right, a history of the American Conservative movement over the past 100 years, the author pointed to how FDR, after winning a resounding election in 1936, embarked upon a campaign to reshape the United States Supreme Court because they stood as the impediment to the change he believed necessary to help America deal with the economic difficulties of the Great Depression. His effort to appoint six new justices to ensure his agencies could all move forward and take control of large portions of the American economy failed. His agenda, however, triumphed, because his programs proved popular, and he eventually passed many of them in the legislature and overcame the Supremes’ resistance.
The lesson taken can be something that Americans of all persuasions should acknowledge. As designed, the American constitutional form of government never envisioned radical or hasty change. The intention always rested on the idea that there would be checks and balances to keep one chamber from becoming too powerful. When trifling with that balance, government leaders gamble with a purposeful scheme. That may or may not explain in full why so much faith has been lost in American institutions today, but considering this background, it may help us understand the degree to which this skepticism prevails at present.
Newhouse explains the case for maintaining the status quo as, “Times change, people come and go…this outfit screwed up COVID policy, yes, and that place has an antisemitism problem, agreed. But they will learn, reform, and recover, and they need our help to do so. What isn’t needed, and is in fact anathema, is any effort to inject more perceived radicalism into an already toxic and polarized American society…What can broadly be called the ‘establishment’ is not only familiar, status-quoists believe; it is safe, stable, and ultimately enduring.” That brings us face-to-face with reality. It cannot be outrun. The institutions we once trusted now rot. The examples are aplenty but look at three in particular – immigration, crime, and the military.
Immigration requires an article unto itself, but a quick survey of the situation tells us a lot about how ideology trumps reason. Biden and his compatriots constantly point to the previous administration as having botched immigration policy, yet a new flood of illegal immigrants is preparing to enter the southern border because Title 42, the law used to keep migrants out of the United States during COVID, has ended.
The small border towns in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico face thousands of people flowing into areas that cannot absorb this kind of influx. Governor Abbott of Texas has taken controversial action. Abbott loads up buses of immigrants and sends them to cities like New York and Chicago because the Democratic City Councils have declared themselves sanctuary cities. Abbott, taking them at their word, asks the migrants where they would like to go and pays their way. Mayor Adams of New York and Lightfoot of Chicago take offense because their cities become overwhelmed with people who stress their social systems. The Texas governor merely points out that since they support the Biden agenda, why do they not ask him for help? Why should small cities like El Paso be expected to process all these people?
When a government chooses to ignore its laws on immigration it invites a host of problems for basic services like health care, education, and housing. Every jurisdiction unwilling to follow the legal prescriptions on the books contributes to the brokenists’ assertion that our old institutions are failing and need replacement.
Crime remains a huge area of friction because racial policy bumps up against personal security. Crime rates and gun violence are driving people on the extreme into the brokenist camp. Many urban dwellers have seen riots, property destruction, and the ransacking of businesses destroy any sense of order in downtown areas across large American cities. Meanwhile, gun violence, mass shootings, and random acts of senseless killing at increased levels have plagued America since COVID began to wane. Many call for stricter gun laws completely ignoring (or being ignorant) to the fact that 20,000 gun laws exist in the United States.
Once again, if laws are not enforced, what purpose exists in adding more to the code? Legislators like the Congresswoman from New York, Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, sound like they would be satisfied if no perpetrator ever served time unless they sold guns, or ammunition, belonged to a majority group, or carried the name, Donald John Trump. If public confidence matters, laws must be enforced and worth the paper they are written on. If institutions cannot live up to the codes they create and justice becomes an ever-changing idea based on a notion of privilege, racial theory, or fairness many will see them as broken.
Finally, the need for a nation to defend itself requires a fully operational military. With the War in Ukraine, those demands have risen significantly yet recruitment goals still need to be met. The latest US government initiative to meet these objectives as reported in TVP World, includes using drag queens. The paper states, “As part of a recruitment drive aimed at the country’s youth, the U.S. Navy deployed a ‘drag queen influencer’ to assist in boosting flagging numbers in the military.”
Perhaps there are some who see this as something that encourages young people to sign up for duty, many have their doubts, “…critics have argued that the purpose of the U.S. military is to provide security for the country, not to be a tool for gender ideology politics. Whilst others have suggested that in an unstable world, where a lot of military strategy is played out through bravado, such as with military drills, it is perhaps surprising that the U.S. would do the opposite of striking fear into their enemies.”
As with the pitfalls mentioned regarding crime and immigration, instilling citizens’ confidence in the military probably aligns more with the traditional role of defender, not agent of social change.
When ideology becomes a god, common sense, truth, facts, and timeless wisdom become casualties. The battle to fix or replace has been joined. The verdict is still very much undecided.
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.