In the night of July 25, 1956, The Italian liner Andrea Doria was steaming off Nantucket towards New York. Seventeen hundred passengers and crew were on board. Heavy fog reduced visibility.
Another ship, the Stockholm, was headed in the opposite direction on the same sea lane.
Both ships saw each other on radar, and both crews implemented avoidance procedures. But by a navigational quirk, compounded by human error, these very procedures put them on a collision course. A short time later the Stockholm, at full speed, rammed the side of the Doria, making a huge breach.
The Andrea Doria sank in the morning, with a loss of 52 lives. The Stockholm stayed afloat.
The Andrea Doria disaster seems a good metaphor for our current political situation. We also have two “ships of state” heading in opposite directions, in what could be well described as a heavy fog:
The President is going at full speed, confident that his well-laid plans for immigration-reform-by-executive-order have clear sailing ahead.
The Republican Party leadership, on their part, appears to believe that their non-confrontational, steady-as-she-goes approach will maintain or even enhance their current electoral advantage.
The passengers and crew – U.S. citizens or hopeful alien residents – have put their confidence in their respective captains and are looking forward to a happy landing.
The fact is, however, that we have never navigated these waters before. There are few, if any, charts for a political situation beyond the Constitution’s borders. Visibility – meaning our understanding of where we really are – is poor. The economic weather is very uncertain. Somebody in the halls of power could easily miscalculate, and land the country on the rocks.
The courses chosen by the protagonists – the president and congress – do not promise “smooth sailing”, but quite the opposite.
Concerning the president, there is already much debate as to whether his latest – and some previous – executive actions are constitutional. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the fact is that, faced with a solidly Republican congress, he is likely to continue governing by executive fiat. This is simpler and more effective in the short term, but also engages on the slippery slope of ruling by decree. Every step in that direction leads closer to a flagrant breach of the Constitution.
The Republican leadership has an analogous problem. They can, in the short term, continue their “smooth sailing” without coming up with a credible program to attack the nation’s problems – a program likely to cause a direct confrontation with the executive. But such a neutral stance goes contrary to the reason they were given an electoral majority in the first place (which is to fix things), and will in time cause a rapid erosion of voter support.
We must not underestimate the dangers this “active gridlock” introduces in our national life.
First, the Constitution is not just an “honorable, high-minded historical document”. It is the foundation of how the country works – the Operator’s Manual of the United States of America. Once we lose it we are, as a country, powerless, rudderless and blind, headed for anarchy.
Second, we do not elect representatives to devise the smoothest way to acquire political advantage, but to do the will of the people. If the last election and polls show anything, it is that the people want the issues facing the nation addressed and worked out.
If we had an abundance of time, wealth and good will at our disposal, we could, maybe, sit back and let things be.
We do not have such luxury. The nation is badly polarized. Our national security, our economy and our infrastructure are in a state of decay.
The time for political games is over.
Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan. He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.