This piece will be appearing --probably next weekend-- in some newspapers in Virginia.
For Republican to follow the "Hastert rule" in today's House of Representatives is a betrayal of the public trust.
The "Hastert rule" (named after a former Republican Speaker of the House) says that no bill will be brought up for a vote unless it has the support of a "majority of the majority" party. A bill that would get a majority of the entire House by combining its supporters among Republicans with its supporters among Democrats never gets a chance, by this rule, unless a majority of the Republican caucus favors the bill.
Under some circumstances, that could be OK. The majority party is entitled to address our national problems with the solutions it prefers rather than make unnecessary compromises with their political opposition.
But today, that's not the choice. Following the Hastert rule does not give us Republican solutions to our problems. It means there will be no solutions.
That's because what the House can pass, requiring the Hastert rule, is unlikely to become law. Any measure that cannot command a large measure of Democratic votes in the House has much chance to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority, or to be signed into law by the Democratic president.
So with the Hastert rule, under the present circumstances, what we get is government paralysis, and record lows in the esteem in which the public holds the Congress. But it's not Congress as a whole that's the problem, it's the Republicans in the House that are taking a "my way or a highway" approach to government, despite controlling less than half the government the people elected.
Patterns tend to persist in cultures over long periods.
Sometimes, when a spirit has seized hold of a society and then driven it into disaster or disgrace, that spirit can be eradicated, or at least exiled into the recesses of the culture. Think of the way that Nazism has been systematically driven out of the German nation and the German psyche.
Nothing remotely like this happened with the spirit that took possession of the South and led it into catastrophic defeat in the Civil War.
If it was an evil spirit that inflamed a region to fight to preserve slavery, neither the South nor the nation as a whole ever decided to drive that spirit out.
The South has continued to honor that spirit, and its fateful consequences. My wife went to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Forrest was a main founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The other high school nearby was named for Jefferson Davis, who attempted to prolong the war after Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses Grant. The South continues to form its identity around the spirit that animated it during that era of destruction.
This destructive force is damaging our nation now just as it did then.
The persistence through time of a recognizable pattern in a culture points to an important part of how the human world works. Just as Great-grandpa's red hair reappears in a new baby, so also can the patterns of social and political dynamics (in this case, destructive dynamics) move through the generations within a society. Such a pattern, or spirit, can perpetuate itself by socializing individuals in ways that lead them, in turn, to reinforce in the world around them the patterns that had been impressed upon them.
The parallels between the political crisis in America in our times, and the crisis that drove America into a terrible Civil War a century and a half ago, reveal how a spirit of this sort has re-emerged to hold major parts of the American cultural system in its grip and animate the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of millions.
I begin here a series of articles to delineate these telling parallels. Perceiving the same pattern in these two important eras -- our present crisis, and the crisis that led to the Civil War -- can be revelatory just like the images in the Magic Eye books: out of the stereoscopic image, a startling figure emerges with depth out of a new dimension.
I responded to this with my way of understanding how decent people, like my neighbors in the Shenandoah Valley, come to deny what science says about climate change.
"I am not sure how much 'self-centered' relates to the problem," I wrote. "Judging at least from what I think I know about my neighbors in the Shenandoah Valley, they'd likely be quick to sign up to go and put their lives on the line for their country in the event of a war. Not self-centered in that context.
"Some other qualities make them vulnerable to this kind of manipulation by lies that are as improbable as unicorns.
In medicine there's a saying, "When you hear hoof beats, think of horses not zebras." Whatever's going on is far more likely to be the usual than the extraordinary.
But when it comes to climate change, the Republicans are telling Americans not to think horses, or even zebras. They're saying, think unicorns. Republicans want Americans to believe that the alarm about climate change is based on a scientific hoax.
Republicans used to claim that the science was inconclusive. Fifteen years ago I was on television in Virginia debating the issue against a local Republican official who took that party-line position. But with so powerful a consensus among the experts - 97% - the Republicans have taken the fall-back position that climate science is a hoax.
This hoax would have to be beyond extraordinary. Over the course of history, there have been hoaxes in science - a scientist or two creating false evidence. But if any scientific hoax has involved more than two or three people, I have been unable to discover it.
The scientific studies that show the disruption of the earth's climate due to human activities have been the work of thousands of scientists, from nations all over the world, conducted over decades.
A scientific hoax of that magnitude is beyond improbable.
If we ought not to believe in this unicorn, is there a horse around to explain the hoof beats?
In fact, there is. We have an industry doing what other industries have done in similar situations. And we have a political party doing what it has done again and again.