Amidst the predictable cacophony that inevitably broke forth when President Trump announced his budget yesterday, a more momentous event occurred in our nation’s capital. The Senate voted to open a freewheeling debate on an immigration reform proposal. After 30 hours of debate, senators will propose amendments to a “shell” bill – sooner if they vote to shorten debate.
At first glance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have kept his promise to allow a vote on “Dreamers” if Democrats helped to end the government shutdown. Both Democrats and Republicans who cherish the proverbial “soft spot” in their hearts for Dreamers will now get a chance to hold their vote.
However, a more cynical view might disparage the effort as an easy exit route for the Kentucky Republican. After all, does he really want to draw the ire of President Trump and subject himself to 280 characters of fame? The wily senator holds a free-wheeling debate and vote on a bill that will ultimately go nowhere. He points to the debate and vote and rightly claims that he kept his word while secretly rejoicing that the vote did not go anywhere. Should the Senate succeed in sending a bipartisan bill to the House and possibly to President Trump’s desk, Senator McConnell gladly takes the lion’s share of the credit for being the greatest bridge-builder since Frank Doyle.
Having disposed of the preliminary political entertainment, let’s peel back the curtain and ask some deeper questions.
Why and why now?
An approaching mid-term election, heightened public scrutiny, mounting national security concerns, and escalating legal challenges to executive action equally contribute to answer “why now?” – by far, the easiest half of the question. More simply put, our nation can no longer ignore the harsh reality that Congress must reform our immigration policy to better befit both our national interests and our national values.
But why this method? For the better part of a decade, Congressional leaders have espoused at least one bipartisan policy: a seemingly irresistible inclination to negotiate solutions between party leadership rather than building a broad consensus through inter-party debate on the respective floors of Congress. By controlling the development of legislation through party leadership, both the Republicans and the Democrats have successfully suspended their political bases through ideological stances that have neither satisfied nor angered.
Raising the curtain?
Two major parties dominate the American political landscape. However, diverse factions comprise a very fragile union for these parties. To a limited extent, the “free-wheeling” debate on immigration reform will enable these diverse factions to step into the spotlight through their representatives.
James Madison aptly described these factions as citizens “actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Federalist No. 10. In modern American politics, we have recognized these “impulse[s] of passion” and have marginalized them in favor of consolidated interests or “moderate” politics.
However, even consolidated interests or “moderate” politics can raise a different sort of faction – one that masquerades under the auspices of the public good, but, in reality, rests upon the fragile pillars of the “impulse[s] of passion”. The consolidated interests faction becomes a select group committed, ostensibly for the public good, to mitigating the perceived and inevitable evils that factional conflict begets.
Looking toward this consolidated interests faction, Madison’s words become applicable again: “[I]t is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few….” Federalist No. 10. The consolidated interests faction ultimately dictates the direction of national policy through its secret counsels, foisted upon an unwitting citizenry through the moral marginalization of factions formed through “impulse[s] of passion.”
Limited to a select few members of the US legislative branch and the executive branch, the consolidated interests faction has achieved some measure of oligarchical dominance over national policy limited only by the fragile pillars upon which it stands. Brokered policy among political leaders on major issues such as the budget, taxes, and healthcare have occurred out of the public eye. However, immigration has proven, at least in the immediate future, an issue too big for the consolidated interest faction to dominate.
Pulling back the curtain.
James Madison decried the evils of factions in Federalist No. 10, yet he acknowledged the natural inclination of mankind to congregate into factions: “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” Federalist No. 10. For Madison, eliminating factions through restriction would extinguish the sacred fire of liberty that America had shed so much blood to preserve. Instead, Madison believed that the Constitution would control the effects of factions by pitting them against each other, especially in regards to property. Federalist No. 10.
From Madison’s own battles with Hamilton to the present time, our Constitution has successfully checked factions by forcing them to work against or with each other to achieve major policy changes. In the upcoming “free-wheeling” debate in the Senate, certain senators from both political parties will speak on behalf of various “impulse[s] of passion” factions. Other senators will rise to rebut them on behalf of the “impulse[s] of passion” factions that they represent, and, inevitably, senators from the consolidated interest faction will decry the “un-American” rhetoric and beg for a return to “American values.”
Notwithstanding the purported political “violence” of the impending debate, “impulse[s] of passion” factions, the American people, will receive an unmitigated chance to speak and legislate through their representatives, trusting in “the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union…” to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for us all. Federalist No. 10.
Should this endeavor be successful, we may finally return to a government of the people instead of a government of artificially consolidated interests.