Much Sound, Little Action
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 29, 2021
Whether in consideration of American military stance, covid, federal debt, climate or anything resembling a view toward the future, we have found ourselves mired in blame, unable to move forward or backward, and unhappy with the current situation.
We’re firing health staff and school cafeteria staff for ignoring government mandates for covid vaccines and moving to bring in the National Guard in hospitals. It’s as insane that we need to fire workers as it is for people who offer intimate health care to ignore the obvious risk to others.
The evident gridlock among Congressional centrist and progressive Democrats and Republicans of all stripes in putting the country’s financial word at risk and may allow a once-in-a-generation package to address serious inequalities in American life slip out of our fingers.
We can’t agree that police who are brutal should face punishment, that we need to re-guarantee the right for all to vote under the barrage of new, restrictive state voting laws, that we are making crazy abortion laws and offering up confused immigration policies, and that climate isn’t going to fix itself without some changes that we need to make, and with cleverness, turn into a positive for jobds.
Yesterday we were watching Congressional attacks on our top military leaders over the advice and decisions they carried out to fulfill Joe Biden’s orders to withdraw from Afghanistan rather than focus, with few exceptions, on the base issues of what our role should be in policing terrorism in the world.
It’s all happening at once, with disasters and it is the grind of American democracy at its absolute worst. As one column called it, we’re seeing the dangers of government dysfunction.
The note that keeps sounding through all this man-made disaster is that political advantage is more important than solving problems for Americans. What isn’t being sounded as much is the notion that issues we face generally are complicated.
That the same Congressional law makers, Republicans in particular, could not bring their newfound interest in getting to the bottom of the Afghanistan withdrawal issues to anything that happened during the Donald Trump years carried its own hypocrisy. Yesterday’s hearings threw around words like “humiliation,” “fiasco,” and “disaster” like so many throwaways all were partisan barbs aimed at Joe Biden, even though it had been Trump who ordered the withdrawal and a date certain for doing so.
Indeed, it was Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who seemed to come up with the pithiest question: Why had this same committee now so eager to slap Biden around for premature withdrawal from Afghanistan not held a similar meeting to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of withdrawal?
The answers, of course, are two. First, no one liked seeing those daily televised pictures of chaos at the Kabul airport as everyone scrambled to deal with the sudden, apparently unforeseen rapid collapse of the Afghan military and government. Second, Biden therefore is an easy and necessary target for accountability.
Republican lawmakers don’t like reading that Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, had criticized Trump and had tried to protect the nation from unlawful decisions about going to war in Trump’s last months, or that, at the instruction of the Defense Secretary, he called China to assure them there was no pending attack. They do like nailing Biden for saying that no general had advised remaining in Afghanistan or advising that we keep troops there any longer — which eventually was true, but clearly is in conflict with the various advice that the military had given over the Spring and summer. Indeed, from the testimony, it was only after Kabul had fallen for all parties to the withdrawal decision to completely agree.
The differences in who told Biden when, magnified by Republican critics, change absolutely nothing about what unspooled in the chaos in Kabul.
If we hold such Congressional hearings, perhaps we should learn something here, beyond the evident limits of U.S. intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts. Smacking Biden around a hearing room isn’t going to alter the threats we face in an uncertain world or reform the Taliban or find new homes for 120,000 Afghans who were pulled out of that failing country.
There are few solutions in these hearings, just congressional speeches with sound bites.
Missing the Point
The tragedy we are witnessing on so many simultaneous public issues is that we are missing the forest for the trees.
The federal debt morass is a problem entirely created by Republican senators; it is the minority holding up a solution. On the big spending bills, it is insistence on telling Biden that individual senators like Joe Manchin, D-WV, has better idea (maybe) on spending than does Biden that is the controlling force. On immigration or climate or abortion, we are reacting to emotions from single images more than from any understanding of context.
On issue after issue, we are kneeling down to The Great Divide over a direction for the country that is stopping any consideration of realistic compromise. We not only have moved away from fact-based thinking, but we have also resorted to our tribal roots. Us versus Them is no way to run a country on a daily basis, particularly a democracy.
Worse, the daily grinding at the same political wheel is whittling away at confidence in our institutions and officers.
The best we can hope for these days are would-be agreements on statements so anodyne as to be useless for any practical planning.