Smashed-toy politics with no adults in the room

Joe Cunningham
Joe Cunningham

We are in the middle of a very embarrassing chapter of our country’s history. Our country’s political maturity has regressed from a juvenile stage to elementary.

The partisan rift has become so deep that just the thought of a party other than our own being in power is one we cannot bear. After the votes are counted, and recounted, we look for ways we can deny the other party that which they have rightfully earned.

Our government was not designed to operate with these spokes in the wheel. So it doesn’t.

A ninth-inning scheme to thwart a Donald Trump presidency included convincing those in the Electoral College representing red states to change their votes. An enormous usurpation of the people’s voice and vote. And a terrible blueprint for future political clashes. Ultimately, the movement failed to gain traction.

But others have not gone so quietly.

Politically inverse to the presidential election, North Carolina Republican incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory called for a recount after he was upended by Democratic candidate Roy Cooper. Shortly after the recount began, it ended. In his concession, McCrory stated: “I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper.”

Then McCrory, with the assistance of a Republican legislature, set out to do exactly the opposite.

Under the guise of establishing “hurricane and wildfire relief” for victims of recent disasters, McCrory called a special session with the real purpose of systematically depriving his successor of any power he could.

Under bills passed by the Republican legislature, the governor-elect would be stripped of the power to appoint a majority of commissioners to the state’s board of elections and the number of government employees he could appoint would be cut from 1,500 to fewer than 500. McCrory has essentially agreed to hand over the keys to the house, but only after changing the locks.

While the state House debated one of the bills, North Carolina’s citizens protested from the gallery overlooking the legislature, adamantly opposing the Republican power grab. Many were arrested and carted away in handcuffs, while the only crime — theft — was being committed on the floor beneath them.

Equally as concerning are those who sit idle across the aisle. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In the past when elementary spats broke out in the U.S. Senate, we turned to the adults in the room, those who could not only hear the voice of reason but listen to it, too. At one point, we could rely on Sen. John McCain to break with his own political party and call out its misdeeds. Now, there are no good men.

McCain refused to break rank with Republicans, declining to afford Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, so much as a confirmation hearing. But it was never just about Obama. Running up to the election, McCain vowed to block anyone Hillary Clinton would nominate should she win. Anyone.

In the real world, this behavior is expected to occur only within children’s play areas. When a small child opts to smash a toy instead of surrendering, we are disappointed but not always surprised. But when political leaders do the same, we should be both.

Recently, my nieces, ages three and five, were playing in the hammock in my backyard. When it was apparent they could not fit, much less play, cooperatively, the older was ordered out. She quietly left. She did not elect to cut the hammock down. Nor did she set it on fire.

Being witness to this interaction, my initial thought was how much our country’s political leadership could learn from their own peers.

Joe Cunningham grew up in Western Kentucky and graduated from the Chase College of Law in Northern Kentucky. He lives and practices law in Charleston, S.C.