Pipe Bombs, Part of a Larger Problem by Al Sikes


I get it; mailing pipe bombs is a problem, not treasonous. But, it is simply a manifestation of a much larger problem.

A far bigger problem is the deterioration of the political parties and the absence of responsibility. If political parties are to be judged by their biggest domestic priority, each has one.

The Republicans seem unequal to anything other than some new federal tax cut legislation regardless of our national debt, annual deficits and underfunded promises. Only if taxes are reduced to zero will the Republicans turn their attention elsewhere.

The Democrats understand zero, as their latest proposals tend to revolve around free college and medical care. It is striking that the traditional home of the blue-collar worker devalues careers that don’t require college degrees.

Now I grant you that I have overstated both Parties’ positions, but since campaigns are conducted on themes not white papers, I am just yielding to the way they present themselves. I almost forgot one campaign theme: it is the one built around how despicable the other Party is.

While political parties have long disparaged each other, today’s Party leaders have stepped up their attacks. After all, we live in a world of performance art, reality TV shows and non-stop noise as our phones buzz or tweet or ring or whatever. In a world of noise it is hard to get noticed, so stridency or worse seems to be the marketing choice of the day. And, if you really want to get noticed without having to work at it, start as a celebrity.

President Trump entered politics a reality show celebrity while the umpteen others that ran for the Republican nomination pushed around obsolete talking points. Now that we have a celebrity in the White House, who gained fame before he did more than quip about public affairs, almost half of the US Senate Judiciary Committee auditioned for a similar standing with outrage as their persona. They understood the Kavanagh hearings would draw audiences at a Super Bowl level.

Do I blame Donald Trump for the pipe bombs being mailed to high profile Democrats? No, I don’t. Yet, he is without peer when it comes to “rubbing it in,” as my Dad would warn against doing. And since he now holds power, there is no lack of imitators.

In the meantime, our political performance artists are trying to move the electorate around like objects in a board game. Except, this board game is real and the winning formula is not determined by a throw of the dice.

At the same time, the Fourth Estate (journalists) has largely chosen up sides. They too have become victims of “magnify and amplify.” Headlines have become ever more provocative regardless of the underlying story.

In this world of Magnifiers and Amplifiers, compromise has become a dirty word. When you weaponize the most necessary element in a successful political equation, the autocrat becomes increasingly tempting. The end result is government by Executive Order with ultimate resolution left to the Courts as the Congress cedes its power.

What we should expect is what we have—a very deep political divide, divisions that parallel our fiscal one. Not surprisingly politicians, whose first and last loyalty is to self, are happy to forget future generations that will have to pay for their excesses.

Now let me end by giving a shout out to the President. He sensed what the scripted politicians didn’t. He sensed that his often shameless approach would send the signal that he was indeed different. He also understands weakness and exploits it hourly. Beyond that he crafted a message, “Make America Great Again” that turned out to be brilliant. By dismissing such a sentiment, the elites played his game and lost.

Now that he has awakened garden-variety politicians, perhaps they should go to work trying to match expectations with resources, something he is not good at. There are a number of wordsmiths that can make such an effort ring clear and urgent. Trump owns hubris; maybe the winning formula can be found in truth. I sure wish John McCain was still around.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

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