Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
April 8, 2023
Senator Manchin is not alone! Further, US Dysfunction is real and there is no way to hide it. It is a major domestic challenge for the US and solutions must be found before anyone claims the US to be “a global example of democracy.”
The crux of the challenge: we have not gotten our house in order, yet we are already focusing on leading the world. Even more dramatic is that the US is dividing the world into two major geopolitical blocks. Those who follow the US or those we like, we call them like minded nations, are in our democratic camp. All others are labeled as autocracies, and they are adversaries. We and our allies are always right, we have to fully defeat all adversaries to the end that there is no more autocracy but democracy. Will everyone be happily living together without wars? There is no assurance!
Before we look at the world and the future, we should take a moment to reflect on the past. The US democracy used to function, what have we done wrong, so dysfunction prevails now? How “we get more and more separated and divided?”
Sen. Manchin believes the U.S. ‘can’t show the dysfunction’ in order to be a global example of democracy.
David Kirk, Times West Virginian, Fairmont
Sat, April 8, 2023 at 6:50 AM PDT
Apr. 8—FAIRMONT — In the complicated geopolitical landscape the world is experiencing today, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. worries the United States isn’t setting the right example.
In a recent interview with The Times West Virginian, Manchin discussed the ‘dysfunction’ he witnesses daily in the U.S. Congress.
In decades past, that wasn’t an issue. Finding a middle ground through compromise was the way things were done, so a slim majority simply controlled which party set the agenda.
Now, according to Manchin, that’s no longer the case.
“You need 60 [votes] to pass everything. Now people want to get rid of the filibuster because the political process has gotten so toxic that I don’t think in our lifetime we’ll ever see one party have 60 [members] in the Senate,” Manchin said. “I don’t think now, especially as we get more and more separated and divided… we’re going to have to realize that we have to work together.”
All major legislation passes or fails along party lines with little to no cooperation, despite the fact that most bills that pass have plenty of Republican input.
The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act championed and, to a large part, drafted by Manchin, was passed through a process called budget reconciliation, which allows a bill regarding spending, revenue or the federal debt limit to be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes rather than the typical supermajority of 60.
Congress can only use this process three times a year, once for each of the three listed reasons. The IRA had plenty of Republican input according to Manchin, but they still didn’t vote for the bill.
“We should be deliberating but none of that goes on,” Manchin said.
Breakdown in deliberation
Manchin isn’t the only one seeing this breakdown in the political process in the U.S. West Virginia University Political Science Professor Erik Herron has witnessed and studied political division for years.
The reasons for the division in the U.S. are still hotly debated by experts. Whether the division is caused by top-down phenomenon, or a manifestation of the public’s feelings is still a major unanswered question. However, there are several reasons that have stuck out as major contenders for the division, according to Herron.
Gerrymandering, social media, Americans moving to areas with like-minded politics are all possible causes for the political unrest in the country. Which of these issues has resulted in our divided country is unclear, the division has morphed from a disagreement about policy to a disagreement about the county’s core values.
“It’s one thing to disagree about policy when it comes to election security or even more controversial issues like gun rights and abortion. We can have policy differences and have meaningful discussion on those topics,” Herron said. “But it isn’t that Americans disagree on policy, it’s that they fundamentally disagree and look at the world differently.”
“Growing shares in each party now describe those in the other party as more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent than other Americans,” states the report. “Perhaps the most striking change is the extent to which partisans view those in the opposing party as immoral.”
The polarization is seen within the public, but has also manifested within Congress, as Manchin noted.
Compromise has almost begun to be viewed as weak or even betrayal. In the 2022 election cycle, compromise was used as a weapon in Republican primaries around the country. A notable example was here in West Virginia in the Republican primary between for U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for the state’s second house congressional district.
Mooney’s campaign was built on targeting McKinley’s vote for the Democrat-backed infrastructure bill in 2021. A 2022 campaign ad video was especially critical of McKinley’s bipartisanship.
This is an issue Herron has observed around the country.
“Primaries can encourage candidates to have more extreme views and that process can discourage members of Congress from crossing the aisle and making deals,” Herron said. “If they see that down the line that working someone from the other party could result in a primary challenge where your loyalty is in doubt.”
The United States as an example
While these issues are causing unrest within our own borders, they’re also causing the rest of the world’s countries to raise their collective eyebrows at the United States.
This is especially worrisome for Manchin as he sees the geopolitical unrest around the globe, and he believes the U.S. should be leading as an example of democracy.
When a country like the U.S. seeks to protect its international interests abroad, the countries abroad expect things to be nice and tidy for the U.S. back home. Right now, they are not.
Since the domestic election debacle in 2000, the world has grown wary of the integrity of the American democratic process just as some Americans have grown wary of the process themselves.
“Showing you can agree, showing you can compromise is an important example for the U.S. to provide.”
Manchin himself is worried about the international consequences of the domestic division plaguing the country today.
He worries that if it doesn’t stop, our allies will take note.
“The political dysfunction we have is absolutely for real,” Manchin said. “If you want to save your country you got to be strong enough to keep your allies, to be strong enough to keep your allies we’ve got to show better performance than what we’re doing now. We can’t show the dysfunction here.”