By Jacob Vito
Among those in the House and Senate, there’s an expected way that power flows: seniority. Once secure in your position, a legislator can move through the ranks of their party, and if they last long enough, they can eventually become one of its key figures. Yet, with Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, that protocol fell apart.
Cheney, formerly the third-most senior member of the Republican Party’s legislative bloc, has been stripped of her power last Wednesday. Though the vote that decided her fate was private, the reasons were very public: she vocally broke away from Donald Trump, and the Republican Party’s support of him.
Cheney’s rift with the party’s platform became especially pronounced in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Cheney was loudly against the cries of election manipulation that many Republicans indulged following the vote.
Though the Wyoming representative’s perspective on Trump was always worse than her colleagues, it seems her more recent condemnations of the former president enraged Republican leadership. Immediately after her demotion, Cheney doubled down, stating that Trump would “unravel the democracy” if he came back into power.
Don’t be surprised by this, though. One of the strengths of the modern Republican Party has been its ability to rally behind its causes. If a prominent figure like Cheney begins to actively disregard the party’s positions, she can’t expect to keep her seat.
Some claim this to be a benefit for Cheney. They would argue that her ousting gives her publicity, allowing her to act as a face for the Republicans who disagree with the party’s affection for Trump. However, this perspective misunderstands the nature of the political machine at both the local and national levels.
In modern politics, semi-independent legislators like Liz Cheney really can’t exist. Her constituents are divided between understanding her motives and disliking her supposed betrayal of the party, but there’s one emotion they’re not feeling: excitement about voting for her again.
Multiple primary candidates are now going against her, and in a state that overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2020, her separation from him really won’t be taken well––especially at the local level. In Washington, the consequences of this ousting are even worse for Cheney.
The last 150 years of American politics have been built on a system primarily dominated by two parties. Because of this, the whole political infrastructure is crafted around them. Through parties, a legislator will fundraise for campaigns, connect with lobbyists and form voting coalitions. Without a real position in either party, Cheney will likely follow the path of those ostracized before her: fall from relevance and power.
But understanding why a senior party member like Cheney was ousted is just as important as knowing what will come of it.
If there’s one word held most highly when speaking of the House and Senate, it’s compromise. Older legislators hearken back to the days of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and leaders like President Joe Biden constantly emphasize its importance when speaking on potential laws. It seems many of those in power yearn for the days of moderate representatives.
There’s only one challenge with this: today’s political climate doesn’t allow for moderate stances.
The issues being debated and written on in the legislature today don’t accommodate a middle ground. What is the satisfying compromise between protecting the rights of minorities or not, between sending someone to jail for a nonviolent offense or not, between ensuring people jobs they can survive on or not? Letting someone have half of their rights, or half of an unjust sentence, or half of a living wage does not work.
So, of course, there’s polarization! These issues are inherently polarizing due to the severity of their topics and the weight of their focus, and that’s OK! Do you want to live in a country that can’t make up its mind about the political, economic and social rights its people have? We did it to stop slavery; we did it for women’s rights; we can recognize what needs to be fought for and push for it.
It just takes effort.
For the issues of discrimination, poverty, criminalization, the violence of today and the legislative battles over Biden’s agenda in the months and years to come, a realization must occur for those in Congress. Some things you can’t compromise on.
In discrimination, governmental authority and economic justice, the two parties will never agree. Attempting to find a middle ground can’t happen when either side runs on a fundamentally different view of the way the world should work. An alt-right and a progressive will not find common ground on minority issues; a big-business Republican and democratic socialist will not find common ground on economic policy.
This is the political landscape we live with: not one of idyllic moderation but ideological clashes. It makes for a tumultuous time in American politics, but that’s alright. The vastly different political perspectives of today are like different answers to a question. Now that we can see them, it is up to us to decide which solution is correct.
Jacob Vito is a first-year Community and Regional Development major at UC Davis. He is from western Pennsylvania.
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