Placing Country Above Party Politics

Placing Country Above Party Politics

© David Burton 2020

Party Loyalty

     “George Washington was first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, a soldier remembered as uniquely inspiring to the men who went through hell with him at Valley Forge. Washington is not particularly remembered as a political scientist, but early on he recognized what may yet be the fatal flaw in the American political system.
     “He recognized the blind partisanship born of the party system, and we see it writ large in the {current} presidential election campaign . . . He foresaw with remarkable clarity and prescience how organized factions could come together to obstruct the execution of the laws enacted by Congress, and how this would effectively override the Constitutional separation of powers of the executive, congressional and judicial branches of the government.
     “. . . late in life, he wrote that ‘however [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.’ [Emphasis mine]
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     “Washington understood, as many Americans do not, that political parties are organized as if to promote graft, greed and corruption, leading inexorably to putting party above country. . .
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     “George Washington, like a modern prophet, was concerned with the damage that loyalty to party above country would inflict in a time far beyond his own. The alternate domination of one political party over another, he said, would enable one party enjoying temporary control of the government to use that power to exact revenge on the other at the expense of the country.
     “This tendency toward atrocities directed at the party out of power, he said, ‘is itself a frightful despotism. But it leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.’ " (Ref. 1)

     Americans would do well to take heed of Washington's admonitions during the politicking leading up to the elections in November 2020. Extreme party partisanship and despotism are not far removed from each other. It was never the intention of the framers of our Constitution to empower one political party or one individual to the detriment of the American people. Their intent was to guarantee that the good of the citizens of this country would always take precedence over all selfish political considerations. They had fought to do away with one despot and wished to ensure that no other despot - whether an individual or a group on individuals organized into a despotic cabal - should ever seize uncontrolled power in America. Hence the establishment of the three branches of our American government and the checks and balances written into our Constitution.

     Some 250 years or so after Washington’s words were spoken, America finds itself embroiled in the “blind partisanship born of the party system”. But, we may finally be seeing the possibility of blind party loyalty becoming subservient to the national interest and simple conscience. “Even as Democrats in the House pursue an impeachment inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, President Donald Trump has doubled down on his attacks, using Twitter to go after his perceived political rivals as well as the members of Congress investigating him. Trump’s actions suggest he has no fear of being removed from office—as well he shouldn’t. So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP have proved an almost indestructible firewall against attacks on the president and his agenda.
     “While McConnell has called it ‘laughable’ to claim that Trump committed an impeachable offense, he’s also taken a few careful steps to insulate his caucus against a possible reversal. ‘If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process,’ he said in a statement to Politico, ‘they’ve already overplayed their hand.’ But he also told CNBC he’d have ‘no choice’ under Senate rules but to take up impeachment articles and stopped short of blessing Trump’s conduct. [Emphasis mine] In recent weeks he’s ordered a bipartisan Senate intelligence investigation, backed a resolution written by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanding that the administration turn over the then-secret whistleblower report, and announced he’d been privately pushing the administration to release aid to Ukraine that had been held up before Trump’s phone call with that country’s president.
     “While no Senate Republican has yet said Trump should be impeached over Ukraine, what they have said suggests he might not have a solid wall behind him if damaging information continues to come out. Trump’s sometime rival Mitt Romney of Utah has called the president’s actions ‘troubling in the extreme.’ Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, who criticized Trump as a candidate but has fallen in line since, said his colleagues shouldn’t rush to ‘circle the wagons’ around the president. And Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina has vowed to ‘get to the bottom’ of what happened.
     “It would likely take a collapse in support for Trump among Republican voters to change GOP senators’ calculus. While polls show increasing approval among the public for impeachment, it’s come mostly from Democrats. The president’s approval rating among GOP voters remains above 80% in public polls, making any Republican senator’s defection a potentially career-ending decision.
     “The administration is counting on Republicans to toe the party line. [Emphasis mine] Before it released a rough transcript of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine, the White House summoned a group of Republican lawmakers for a strategy briefing. Anyone who might have been considering breaking ranks wouldn’t have had to look further than former Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee to see the consequences: Both decided to retire last year rather than run for reelection after their dust-ups with Trump sent their poll numbers plummeting.
     “Having to cast a vote in an impeachment trial would put some swing-state Republicans, such as Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio, on the spot. Toomey and Portman have sought to split the difference, criticizing the president but suggesting his actions don’t warrant removal from office. GOP Senators Cory Gardner (Colorado), Martha McSally (Arizona), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Thom Tillis (North Carolina), all up for reelection in battleground states, have accused the House of overreaching.
     “Others, including Susan Collins of Maine, have started telling reporters they don’t want to comment on the impeachment question because they might end up serving as de facto jurors, a line that conveniently keeps them out of the daily political fray. Collins has yet to say whether she’s running next year, but she could face the toughest fight of her career if she did, having to court voters in a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many Democrats who have voted for Collins in the past are angry over her support for Trump’s agenda and her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, causing her approval ratings to tumble.
     “By contrast, an impeachment fight could benefit McConnell—who is himself running for reelection next year—given that Trump won his state, Kentucky, by 30 points. McConnell’s campaign has attacked Amy McGrath, his Democratic rival, for supporting an impeachment inquiry.
     “Trump’s best protection remains the constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the Senate vote to remove him from office, rather than the simple majority it takes to impeach in the House. No president has ever been removed by Senate vote—Richard Nixon resigned before he could be—and for the Senate to do so in this case would require an almost unimaginable 20 Republican votes to convict.
     “Even a few defections, however, could damage the president heading into 2020. The White House would have to worry the most about senators like Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee who ripped Trump’s character in 2016 and, like some other Republican senators, refused to vote for him. And Trump has little leverage over long-serving senators planning to retire, such as Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
     “There is some precedent for Republican senators turning against the president. Earlier this year, a dozen Senate Republicans, including Alexander, Collins, and Romney, defied Trump on his emergency declaration at the border, despite McConnell’s publicly encouraging them to ‘vote for border security.’ The opposition was enough to rebuke Trump, but not enough to override a veto, making it a relatively safe show of independence. A vote to remove the president from office would of course be far more consequential—and potentially far more politically dangerous.” (Ref. 2)

     In light of all this, there are several questions that have arisen. Have the most recent actions of Donald Trump finally driven Republican senators and representatives into abandonment of their blind party loyalty? Has principle finally superseded obedience to Republican party leadership? Has patriotism finally emerged as the guiding value for Republican lawmakers? Will conscience take precedence over passive compliance? The answers to these questions are not yet known, but the time for these questions to be answered may be fast approaching.

     Lest it appear that all partisan politics resides on the Republican side of the isle, let’s remember that Democrats have yet to prove that they be objective and fair in their treatment of Donald Trump. It is incumbent that Democrats in the House and the Senate pursue the issue of Trump's impeachment and removal from office with much more impartiality than they have heretofore shown. Democrats may not like Trump, but dislike for a President is not grounds for impeachment and removal from office.

     Republican party unity was again tested when President Trump ordered the abrupt removal of U.S. ground troops from northern Syria where they had been supporting America’s only ally in the region, the Kurds. Immediately upon this action, the Kurds came under attack from Turkey.

     “Congressional Republicans have spent most of the past two years trying to limit public fights with President Donald Trump, either out of party loyalty or fear of being on the wrong end of a presidential tweetstorm.
     “But that show of unity was put to the test {in October 2019} when Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria in advance of an impending Turkish military operation against Syrian Kurdish militia fighters.
     “Senior Republican leaders like senators Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Ted Cruz, of Texas, all joined Democratic colleagues in publicly criticizing the idea, with Graham even going on Fox News to label the decision ‘short-sighted and irresponsible.’
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     “. . . a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said domestic political considerations may have played a role as well {in some Republican politicians breaking ranks with the President}. She speculated that some prominent Republicans felt uncomfortable defending Trump over the Ukrainian scandal that prompted a House impeachment inquiry.
     “ ‘I think it’s not just Syria. I think this is about Republicans with a national spotlight feeling the need to show some daylight between them and the president,’ she said. ‘Clearly they’re feeling some need to show they’re not in lockstep.’ “ (Ref. 3)

     With partisan party politics seemingly in control of the American political system for the last several years, one may rightly ask if there is a practical solution to this worsening problem? It is said that the two-party system is destroying America. Democrats and Republicans appear to be on a sinking ship and we, the American people, will go down with them if nothing is done. One proposed solution is to change the system so as to encourage third party participation on the national political stage.

     “The nation faces all sorts of serious problems, from growing inequality to spreading international terrorism, but the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans has largely ground government to a halt. Partisans on both sides are so angry they can barely speak with the other, much less work together. The most extreme are convinced that members of the other party are treasonous and purposefully harming the nation. . . They don’t just think they have better ideas or their opponents are misguided and honestly believe that the other side is more interested in partisan gain than the well-being of the nation. Many of the more extreme partisans simply refuse to work with the other side. The result is that the two parties have the nation’s capital, and many state capitals, in a death grip.
     “This level of hostility is a direct cause of gridlock.   . . . {Over} the last thirty years the nation has grown more partisan and Congress has become less effective. Each side is more extreme, and each bases their political agenda on demonizing the other side. Each side engages in political machinations, which include partisan gerrymandering and manipulating the rules of Congress to get their way, stymie their opponents, or deny them office completely.
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     “And the public is sick of it. 80 percent disapprove of Congress. That’s actually an improvement, last November {2015] 86 percent disapproved. . .
     “But what if the problem isn’t the politicians, or the parties? What if the problem is the system? What if the problem is a system that makes every election a battle between a single Democrat and a single Republican? Maybe the solution isn’t new people, or new parties. Maybe the solution is changing the way we elect people.
     “We used to have viable ‘Third Parties’ in this country. A few, like the Whigs and the Republicans, eventually became the dominant party. Others, like the Abolitionists and the Progressives, brought important new ideas into the national debate, and helped change the course of history.
     ‘Was there something different then that allowed these third parties to exist? Yes, multi-seat Congressional Districts. A multi-seat district could have two or more elected representatives. This system allowed a candidate to be elected with as little as 10 percent of the vote. This allowed candidates from minor parties to win office, which allowed these parties to gain political traction and eventually participate in a meaningful way on the national stage. Our current single seat districts, with ‘winner-take-all’ elections, favors parties that can assemble coalitions of over fifty percent of the voters. This favors the two major parties.
     “Congress eliminated multi-seat districts in 1967, with the passage of the Uniform Congressional Districts Act. It is time to repeal this law. It is time to give the American people a meaningful choice in politics. We have choices in everything we do, but only a false and divisive choice in politics. . . {We} need to kill the two party system, but {this doesn’t mean} we get rid of the Democrats or Republicans. {Instead,} we change the system to bring in new voices and new ideas. For this we need new political parties.
     “This will give voters more choices at the polls. It will also bring new ideas into the political debate, which will mean that public policy issues may be debated as if there are a range of possible solutions. This will get us away from the silly idea that every issue is a death match between left and right. And maybe, just maybe, the debate won’t be so stupid and we can seriously address the issues facing the nation.” (Ref. 4)

     While our elected politicians remain at blame for allowing party loyalty and partisanship to steer their decision making, the ultimate blame for the consequences of this situation lie at the feet of the American citizenry. It is the American voter who decides who represents them and what they want these elected officials to do when in office. We, the citizens of America, have the power to turn out of office those who do not act in our interests and to demand that they place patriotism first and foremost above any party loyalty. We, the American voters, must insist that those we place in public office, must place us, their constituency, above the leaders of any political party to which they are beholden. And we, the citizens of these United States, must stop blindly voting by party affiliation and start voting by reason of the individual candidate’s abilities, honesty, and willingness to place our and the country’s interests above party. We need to start focusing on the candidate and ignoring the party.


  1. Loyalty to party above country, Steven T. Dennis, The Washington Times, 6 November 2016.
  2. If Impeachment Comes to the Senate, Mitch McConnell Has Some Wiggle Room,
    Steven T. Dennis, Bloomberg Businessweek, 4 October 2019.
  3. Trump’s plan for Syria withdrawal weakens GOP unity, Michael Coblenz, News Tribune,
    9 October 2019.
  4. The two-party system is destroying America, Michael Coblenz,, 28 January 2016.

  30 January 2020 {Article 398; Politics_56}    
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