Serious Question: Can ‘Checks And Balances’ Survive The Smart Phone?

REUTERS/Issei Kato

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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If FBI Director James Comey’s “October surprise” has any electoral fallout, it is more likely to be in U.S. Senate races than in the presidential race. For one thing, this scandal buttresses their message; several vulnerable Republican Senate candidates have already essentially conceded a Trump defeat, and they have enacted a triage strategy of arguing that a Republican Senate is vital to provide checks and balances against “crooked Hillary.”

While some might fear divided government would equal more gridlock and dysfunction, Republican strategist Mike Murphy has argued that it would be easier for a President Hillary Clinton to actually cut a deal if Republicans maintain a slim majority, because with “a Democratic majority, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell knows they’re probably only there [in the minority for] two years…And the Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders [Left] wing is going to box her in. And nothing will get done.”

Let’s hope he’s right. Passing bad legislation is worse than passing no legislation, but America needs to start putting a few points on the board. One gets the sense that this is psychologically important to combat a populist ethos that suggests establishment elites are ineffectual—and a nation that feels mired in malaise. In this regard, technology has only made matters worse.

Yesterday, on Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS,” Anne Applebaum raised a concern I’ve been thinking about for a long time, which is that “in an era when people can click on a button…and have things instantly, democracy…has ceased to interest a lot of people.”

We are literally being trained by our phones to have unrealistic expectations. Tech companies want to remove the least bit of resistance that might conceivably slow down our ability to pay them our hard-earned money, but democracy work that way. The Senate, for example, was intentionally designed to cool things down, like a saucer cools coffee or hot tea.

Those who worry about the future of our nation should also be concerned that the ethos of ease conflicts with a governing philosophy that is 250 years old. Ask yourself this: Can checks and balances survive the smart phone?

Assuming Hillary Clinton hangs on and wins this election, here’s hoping that she eschews the partisan temptation of ramming through radical or controversial, “comprehensive” policies, and that Republicans avoid the partisan temptation to deprive her from garnering even anodyne accomplishments.