Thursday, October 17, 2013

Representative Coalition

Amazon Video recommended I watch “The Manor the other day, probably as a result of my affection for “Downton Abbey,” “Upstairs Downstairs” and an embarrassingly high number of whodunnits from the other side of the pond.  This “reality show” was filmed in 2001 and put everyday 21st Century people in the various household roles – from the Butler down to the Hallboy and the Housekeeper to the Scullery Maid.  None of them had ever done any work like it before.  The “family” was a real well-to-do family from who were elevated to the role of Lord and Lady of the House.  Nobody was voted off or eliminated – the point of the “project” was to see how 19 volunteers from the modern world would adapt to life in 1905.  It was a fascinating and entertaining look at how order and chaos came out of a rigorous set of mores and rules of the time and the difficulties – both Upstairs and Downstairs – in applying them.  Adapting to an Edwardian lifestyle brought out the best and worst in people.  A dozen years after the six episode series aired I found it riveting, humorous and relevant to today’s political situation in the US.

The impotence of today’s politics in Congress is rooted in the past.  The battle between Thomas Jefferson’s Republicanism (not to be confused with today’s iteration) and Thomas Hamilton’s Federalist Party from the days of the country’s founding continues to fought.  Jeffersonian Democracy theory is very grass roots, involves people from all parts of government, puts the legislative decisions above all others and is rooted in liberty at all costs, guaranteed by the cornerstone of free expression.  Hamilton's ideas followed a more aristocratic model where the Supreme Court was able to overrule Congress, where the Executive Branch could be modeled after the British Monarchy, and there was a more ordered way of making decisions.  It’s this version of democracy that has survived largely intact, despite the lip service given to Jeffersonian ideals.

Neither the ideas of Jefferson nor the legislative victories of Hamilton have resulted in an effective governance structure for the U.S. Government today.  Quasi-shut-downs, fake-furloughs, and the inability to craft, pass and implement a budget has ground the idea of government to a halt.  More and more everyday people are angry and disgusted – and fewer and fewer will participate in the process.  For decades we’ve had a minority of voters electing representatives.  The result is fewer people are engaged in the discourse, and fewer still actually participate.  This downward spiral of participation allows the most vocal – and not the most representative – views to win the day.
The fracture in Washington DC is actually a good representation of the country overall.  Americans do not agree on the size or impact of government.  There is a fundamental schism.  Though fairly represented, the views have become so entrenched that there is no give, no movement, no compromise, no solution –so the least represented view (of doing nothing) is the one that ultimately wins.  How’s that for irony?
Congressional districts should be crafted by commissions, not by politicians.  Voting should be as easy and as prevalent as using an ATM.  It’ll be messy, loud and further fractured.  Leaders would have to come from those who could build a representative coalition, not from party loyalty – a bygone notion from a bygone era.  It’s not dissimilar to other democracies that are forced to build coalition governments.  It’d make for terrible television because the narrative would be so complex --- but it would be good for the country.  With these ideals, maybe I was meant for a Manor House way of life?

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