The politics of the shutdown as a model for thinking about the politics of impeachment

Think back 72 hours. How sure was everyone that the shutdown would go on for weeks, if not months? How sure was everyone that Republicans would dutifully hold the line and never leave Trump’s side, because his “base” was incapable of seeing reality? Until 24 hours ago, it seemed like it all might never end, right?

And then, all of a sudden, the cracks in the dam spread, and the entire thing burst. Things hit a tipping point, and all at once, what had been unthinkable became real.

All human systems are complex systems, and all complex systems exhibit nonlinear, non-zero-sum, emergent behaviors. All of them. Things are impossible one day, commonplace the next. So it was with the shutdown, and so can it be with impeachment.

What James Madison has to say to us about the politics of the shutdown

As you read Fallows’ take on the shutdown from James Fallows and his readers, keep in mind James Madison’s institutional design:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

And now, to James Fallows’ readers:

Donald Trump became accustomed to Congressional servility over the last two years; and he clearly expected to extort the same attitude going forward, as if the Republican defeat in the 2018 elections never happened….

It was necessary to demonstrate to Trump and his supporters that conditions have changed, and that the governing process is going to be different — including the futility of attacking government itself as a means of achieving political goals.  That lesson will be essential for future issues, including appropriations bills and the debt limit.  


Mitch definitely doesn’t have Trump’s political survival as his top priority. He has his own political survival as his top priority.


An Emergency Declaration would be an extraordinarily stupid precedent to set.

Sure, this solves their short-term problem. Trump makes the declaration, attempts to comandeer the resources, and gets tied up in court while regular appropriations get passed. Ok.

But long term? Y’all aren’t paying attention if you don’t think the new generation of Democrats won’t use the same set of powers in the future for their own ends. It’s inevitable.

There’s a really simple rule to live by: never support the use of a set of powers by your pqrty that you arent willing to later recognize as legitimate when your opponents inevitably use them too.

Don’t built a surveillance state you don’t want your opponents running. Don’t start a war you don’t want your opponents managing. Don’t support the use of emergency powers you don’t want your opponents to use. Not now. Not ever. It will always end up a mistake. Always.

All This “Pelosi Won’t Be Speaker” Stuff Has Always Been Ridiculous

Leaving entirely aside her personal politics, Pelosi is one of the most gifted caucus leaders in all of our history. There was not ever any chance she would lose her bid for the gavel. She knew exactly who needed to vote against her in the caucus meeting before coming around to vote for her on the floor. And yeah, this guy was always one of them:

So much of what passes for political news is just reporters needing a story they can cover as if politics was just sport. She’s up! She’s down! She’s losing! She has momentum!

That’s not how things work, especially not inside the halls of Congress.