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The American People vs. Congress

This last week I posted the following poll on my Twitter feed:

As it currently stands, 84% of the vote is “I do not.” Unfortunately, with only 26 votes, I’m not going to even pretend that this is representative of the American people, or even that it made it outside of my political bubble. Plus when you add in all the problems with this poll, including the comment by a smart friend of mine that the will of the people and what’s best for the people are not always 1:1, I don’t think I’d be able to submit this to any database even if it had thousands of votes. Still, with such a high percentage and only a single vote for “I do”, it seems like it must be part of some trend to hate on Congress. 

And honestly, I’m kind of part of that trend. I’d like to believe that the majority of people in Congress have good motivations, that they started their careers with the desire to make their voice heard and represent the people. It seems ridiculous to believe that 100% of our people-elected representatives are completely selfish and would choose themselves over the people on any given issue. Some people believe that, and some would even argue that it’s human nature to do whatever you can for yourself and it’s easy to be blinded to the harm you might cause.

I also need to bring up the idea that many of our politicians probably weren’t American dreamers. That is to say, they weren’t born of humble middle-class origins, or had a realization in middle school that they wanted to defend the people, and then studied hard and worked hard to achieve the place they’re in now. Many, many of them were born in the upper class, and had parents that were either wealthy business people or politicians themselves, and they grew up seeing the expensive galas and ruthless networking of the upper class. That’s why our congress has had so many Kennadys, and why they say that it takes $10 million to win a senate seat. Much of the media I’ve been seeing lately has been exploring this idea of class cultures as our society begins to see a bigger and bigger divide.

Still, coming from a wealthy family into a profession full of wealthy people does not automatically make you a bad person, or untrustworthy. The reason that I argue that Congress is not working the way it should be is because of corruption. And when I say corruption, I mean shady practices of circumventing fairness and putting success before justice.

My biggest example is last May’s Vote-Switching Scandal. An amendment was up for vote, proposed by Democrats. House rules state that they vote will be open for a limited amount of time, after which the speaker will call the results of the vote. If a representative wanted to change their vote, they would need to go up to the well and formally request it. After time had expired, the vote was 217-206 in favor of the amendment. So the Republican leadership of the house didn’t close the vote. Instead, party leaders went around to the Republicans who had voted for the amendment and convinced them to switch their vote, allowing them to do so without going up to the well. Several minutes later, 7 representatives had switched their votes, and as soon as the vote was in favor of “Nay” they called the results. You can see the final minute of this event, and the Democrat’s calls of “Shame!”, below.

The other side of this story is that a week later, the amendment went up for vote again, and this time it passed. The seven Republicans that changed their vote switched back, and Paul Ryan claimed “A bunch of members were misled as to what [last week’s] amendment was or was not, what it was about.” Still, this doesn’t excuse the fact that Republican leaders broke the House rules in order to force a vote to go their way. This is corruption. Gerrymandering, Fillibustering, and refusing to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, all of these circumvent fair practices. Maybe another day I’ll write about those, or how I think that Checks and Balances system is disproportionately in Congress’s favor.

At the end of the day though, it seems like you could ask anybody whether or not Americans like Congress and you’d probably get a “No.” Which makes it kind of appalling that in 2016 97% of House seats and 90% of Senate seats went to incumbents. People don’t like Congress or the way they’re doing things but they’re unwilling to change it. At the end of the day, the problem is very complicated, and it goes way deeper than just the people that are in office. So I’m not going to pretend like I have any answers. But this is something I’m thinking about a lot right now. If you have any insight to share, please do so in the comment section below.

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