Et Tu, Mitch?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office from the Senate floor during votes on the continuing resolution to keep the government funded on Thursday, January 18, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

This era in politics is unusually selfish, spiteful, and stupid, which tempts one to assume that previous eras weren’t selfish, spiteful, and stupid. But that’s not true, of course: Placing one’s electoral interests above the good of the country isn’t a problem that originated in 2016 with Donald Trump.

In 2011, for example, Democrats and Republicans came surprisingly close to a grand bargain that would have traded entitlement reform and spending cuts for tax hikes. Why the deal fell apart remains disputed, but the looming 2012 campaign was surely a factor. Barack Obama feared alienating liberals by tinkering with the social safety net; John Boehner feared a grassroots Tea Party revolt over taxes—or, really, for compromising with Obama on anything.

What was best for America long-term wasn’t best for the two parties’ electoral fortunes short-term, so the former yielded to the latter. That’s essentially the whole history of our decades-long descent into fiscal insanity in one sentence, no?

It didn’t start with Trump, and it won’t end with him once he’s gone.

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