It’s election day in America. Well, not technically my election day, but there are people out there voting. In the run up to every election day, I try to convince myself that I’m just going to turn it off. I can check in tomorrow and catch up in five minutes with whatever needs to be known. It would surely do my blood pressure a favor not to follow the minute-by-minute horserace.
Every time, though, I find myself inevitable drifting to the wall-to-wall coverage offered by the talking heads on three cable “news” channels and a bevy of websites and twitter feeds run by even bigger political junkies than the networks employ.
I’ve kind of made my own peace with the idea that a youth spent overly interested in politics and four years studying it as an undergrad have probably left me deeply incapable of ever really turning it off. Even so, the political theory I learned those decades ago now almost feels antique. The old rules and norms no longer seem to apply. The institutional formulas from the 20th century no longer seem to work.
The world is a strange and different place than it was when I learned the art and science of politics from the sages who were mostly old enough to have fully formed memories of administrations headed by Eisenhower and Kennedy. In spite of myself, though, I can’t help but want to get my arms around it. This pathological desire to at least try understanding the what, why, and how probably indicates some deep personal failing on my part… but here we are.
It will come as a surprise to no one who really knows me that I stayed as far away from math and science as possible during my four years as an undergrad. I could muddle through the work and scrape through with C’s, but I had no aptitude for it, no talent. Turn me loose in Dunkle Hall for History of Whatever or Guild for political science and I was in my element.
Increasingly it feels like many of the old maximums of political science I learned 20+ years ago don’t really apply to the study of politics in 21st century America. Despite the formal education and a few decades of reading I find myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land more and more often.
Still, though, some of the old truisms were true for a reason. While lecturing on the role of the Judiciary, Dr. Simpson was fond of reminding us that “the Supreme Court isn’t final because they’re right – They’re right because they’re final.” It’s one of those deeper truths wrapped in a easy to understand package. For good or bad, short of amending the Constitution, there’s simply no mechanism to allow for appeal beyond the Supreme Court.
Listning to the talking heads today, many of them seem to forget that the same is true when the Senate sits as a court of impeachment. That body has sweeping latitude to set the terms of the trial and the outcome belongs to them alone to decide. What the House thinks, or the president thinks, or what the latest polls show is a bit of interesting, but not particularly relevant detail.
In cases of impeachment, the Senate is right simply by virtue of being final. If you don’t like the results, if you don’t like how you’re being represented in this republic of ours, then the onus is on you to secure different representation at the ballot box… but running around whimpering that “the Senate got it wrong” makes you sound like a schmuck.