Even the brilliant Thomas Jefferson and polymath Benjamin Franklin would have had a difficult time imagining a world where propaganda could be directed to individuals through trusted boxes attached to their walls or held in their hands. The brows of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison would have furrowed had they been told that one day things called data-mining firms would build psychological profiles on billions of people by analyzing their activities on a worldwide electronic network and the assembled data would then be used to generate individualized agitprop to impel political groupthink.
Fortunately, the framers of our Constitution needed not clairvoyance to understand human nature — and they created the United States Senate to protect lives, liberties and properties from the dangerous proclivities of the mob. In an era where the transient attention of impatient multitudes meets Cambridge Analytica-for-hire, the role of the Senate in our republic is more critical than ever. As citizens, we should worry about the Senate and provide its members the political support they must have to withstand rabble-induced pressure to self-erode their power.
There is a quasi-judicial framework of rules and precedents that govern the Senate and equip minorities with the ability to sedate action and limit the tyrannical impulses of majorities, be they partisan or popular. Recently, Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell both used despotic moves to change these rules and proved that the Senate is susceptible to partisan mob rule. Both men, confederated with their respective majorities in the Senate, lied when they voted to disagree with, and thus override, the parliamentarian’s manifestly correct ruling that cloture on consideration of administration and judicial nominees required 60 votes under Senate rules. In other times, the public would have been up in arms against such maneuvers — literally. Now they are complicit.
In the coming months, the mob will exert even more pressure on the Senate to enfeeble itself. Efforts to expand the scope of the reconciliation process, which itself is an erosion of Senate powers, will no doubt be proffered. Will Senate Republicans vote to uphold a parliamentary ruling that eliminates parts of their health care bill because the budget impact is “merely incidental” to its policy impact? The ruling precedent is clear — but will the majority see it that way? Will Senate Republicans continue to respect the ancient “blue slip” prerogative that gives senators a modicum of sway over federal appointees who would govern in their home states? Perhaps. Will clear violations of Budget Act injunctions be shrugged off with guileful quips and staff-prepared talking points? If it changes the narrative to taxes, they might.
McConnell swears that he would never curtail the filibuster for legislation. But that is what he said about the rules for Supreme Court nominees just months before changing them to advance Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime SCOTUS perch. When you consider that senators are trying to serve in a political environment where psyops and manufactured media can be purchased to target and motivate individuals to join a horde, expanding the use of budget reconciliation so that tax cuts can be distributed doesn’t seem improbable.
Only informed and vigilant voters can enable the Senate to arrest its slide from the guardian of liberty to a gaggle of lemmings. Write your elected officials and express concern. The minority you save may one day be your own.
Mac Campbell is a former deputy staff director and general counsel of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. He is a senior vice president at the Lincoln Policy Group.
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