The vanishing Senate hearing: The crisis of congressional adolescence (Oct. 3)


At the beginning of 2018, during the first week of January, I wrote, “It’s a new year in the 21st century.” The century has turned 18. In human terms the century has officially grown up. But for the past 18 years, academics have attempted to predict “the problem” of the 21st century. (This was a play off the famous phrase, the problem of the 20th century will be the color line.) I said each academic discipline has their suspicions, but there is no consensus on the matter. Then I asked, what has been the problem of the 21st century so far?
The answer was the extension of adolescence into adulthood.
I referenced Republican senator Ben Sasse’s 2017 book, called,” The Vanishing American Adult: Our coming-of-age-crisis—And how to rebuild a culture of self-reliance.” The book claimed, “The coming-of-age rituals that have defined the American experience since the founding: Learning the value of working with your hands, leaving home to start a family, becoming economically self-reliant—are being delayed or skipped altogether. The statistics are daunting: 30 percent of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 will graduate. One in three 18-34 year olds lives with their parents. Senator Sasse believes American Democracy depends on responsible, contributing adults to function properly… Without them America falls prey to populist demagogues.”
I knew I would eventually return to this theme, but I didn’t imagine it would involve the actual adolescence of a Supreme Court justice nominee, and an FBI probe into a sexual assault the nominee allegedly committed when he was 17 years old. (The irony here is the search for the nominee’s innocence is sought after within that brief span of time when innocence is lost.) Many traits of adolescence were put on display by senators of both parties before, during, and after the Senate hearing where Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified. Here are a few.
1). Showing off
2). Know-it-all-ism
3). Uncooperative out of spite
4). Rushing to judgment
5). Ignoring fair play to win
I also didn’t think my return to the theme in “The Vanishing American Adult” would be prompted by the author himself. Senator Sasse lectured his Senate colleagues about propriety and governance at the beginning of this Senate confirmation hearing most Americans considered disgraceful.
Senator Sasse said, “It’s predictable that every confirmation hearing now is going to be an overblown politicized circus, and it’s because we accepted a new theory about how our three branches of government should work…So, how did we get here, and how can we fix it? I want to make four brief points.”
1). The legislative branch is supposed to be the center of our politics.
2). It’s not. Why? Because for the last century and increasing by the decade…more and more legislative authority is delegated to the executive branch every year; both parties do it. The legislature is impotent, the legislature is weak, and most people here want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work, so they punt most of the work to the next branch.
3). This transfer of power means the people yearn for a place where politics can actually be done. When we don’t do a lot of big actual debating here we transfer it to the Supreme Court, and that’s why the Supreme Court is increasingly a substitute political battleground in America…it’s not healthy…and it’s something our founders wouldn’t be able to make any sense of.
4). We badly need to restore the proper duties and the balance of power.
In 2016, the year before Senator Sasse published “The Vanishing American Adult,” he stated, “Neither political party works. They bicker like children about tiny things.”
But, on big things the bickering is downright juvenile.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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