OPED: People raise their voices — and, remarkably, Congress listens
- GOP House members quickly learned the American people weren’t the compliant sheep they had imagined.
- Their sleazy ploy on ethics wasn’t overlooked.
- To the contrary, news of the treacherous vote became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in minutes.
Some words are really well-suited for their purpose. Consider the word “norm” — sounds reassuring, doesn’t it? It is any surprise that that the writers of TV’s Cheers called their amiable, beer-loving Everyman, “Norm.” There was supposed to be something soothing and, um, normal about the way patrons sang out “Norm!” every time this average guy bellied up to the bar.
That’s the definition of a “norm,” the way things are supposed to be.
I don’t need to tell you that America’s norms have been under attack recently. Especially democratic norms — the honest and regular way that the people’s business is supposed to be conducted. And yes, in fact, it was Donald Trump who did start a lot of this.
It was Trump who refused to release his income tax returns, refused to deal with his massive conflicts of interest by liquidating his assets, refused to follow the rules of acceptable behavior in his dealings with women and refused to back down when caught telling blatant lies. And he paid no penalty for violating those norms. To the contrary, he was elected 45th president of the United States.
And so when the news broke that House Republicans — in a secret, closed-door vote — voted to gut the House’s independent ethics watchdog and thus make it easier to get away with corruption, my first reaction was that the contagion was spreading. If Trump had shown the way on crushing our democratic values and traditions with impunity and without any consequences, Congress had now grabbed the baton. This blatant, closed-door effort to normalize graft was one more giant slide down America’s slippery slope to neo-fascism — or so it seemed for a few hours.
GOP House members quickly learned that the American people weren’t the compliant sheep they had imagined. Their sleazy ploy on ethics wasn’t overlooked. To the contrary, news of their treacherous vote became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in a matter of minutes. That alone would have made it similar to 7,437 other social media frenzies, but then something truly remarkable happened: People actually picked up a telephone.
“We have got just a tremendous number of calls to our office here and district offices concerned about this,” Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican, told Bloomberg News. By noon Tuesday, the effort to strip the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics of its power — which still required approval of the full House — was officially dead. And many members said the reason was the outpouring of raw anger from constituents.
You know who else noticed the uproar from regular people? Donald Trump. The president-elect tweeted that maybe it wasn’t smart for House Republicans to be pushing this before tackling the big legislative priorities.
Later, some lazy news organizations would claim that Trump’s tweets — which never opposed the measure or even called it a bad idea — helped kill the initiative. That was balderdash. If Trump deserves any credit, it’s only for knowing when to jump on a fast-moving train.
Indeed, on a raw and rainy Tuesday, there were signs that regular folks aren’t planning to take the erosion of democratic norms sitting down. Unless you’re referring to Mobile, Alabama, where black activists led by the NAACP are conducting a sit-in to protest the naming of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions — a lifelong enemy of expanded voting rights — as Trump’s attorney general.
Here in Philadelphia, local organizers held another Tuesdays with Toomey event to attempt (meeting with resistance, apparently) to ask Sen. Pat Toomey’s office staffers about pollution policy and climate change and to protest Trump’s oil-soaked pick to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt. It seems like lots of people who don’t like what they see in America right now are determined to raise their voice and let their local representatives know about it.
If that’s not a democratic norm worthy of a shout-out and a cold brew, I don’t know what is.
The bigger battles lie ahead. While sleazy congressional ethics are a travesty, the GOP’s unsavory plan to repeal Obamacare will literally kill people. In a way, Tuesday’s showdown was like an exhibition game, of sorts. But the good guys were in mid-season form, and they won.
It almost felt, you know — normal.
— Will Bunch is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org