Researchers, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their book It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, depict the defective performance of today’s American political institutions. To carry their idea about the wickedness of the contemporary state authorities, the writers considers numerous debates of the U.S. politics regarding the course that the state should take in order to avoid default. In particular, the book informs about the crisis of the political system that complicates resolving the economic issues faced by the United States. As a result, the country continues to struggle from an economic deficit and has a considerable national debt. Realizing its inability to pay the national debt, the U.S. government decided to increase the debt ceiling (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). In these conditions, it is not surprising that the economic instability stipulates the decrease in the state’s credit rating. The measures that were taken to stop the negative impact of economic issues stroke the American people. Specifically, it was decided to cut the budget by reducing the state’s expenditure on some important sectors, including the healthcare and social protection of Americans. The U.S. government also considers an option of increasing taxation, but this approach was not approved by the majority because of the obvious negative reaction of citizens. The discussed book provides thorough details about the reasons for why the U.S. political institutions fail to maintain their functions properly and, thus, are leading the American society to a worse financial situation. This paper aims at discussing the views revealed by Mann and Ornstein with the purpose to comprehend the processes of institutionalism and their effect on the people and state.
To begin with, it is appropriate to accentuate that one of the major explicit assumptions of the book is the attribution of guilt and responsibility to the main political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, and President Barak Obama. To comprehend the nature of contradictions that complicate the politics’ cooperation, one should understand why the conflicting parties continue to endure. Scholars suggest that contemporary political processes are based and shaped by the rule of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”(Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 443). It is noticed, “This basic political dynamic underlies much of the complexity of the current institutional turn across the social sciences” (Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 443). Without a doubt, being guided by this rule, political institutions struggle to find a compromise. As a result, their collaboration becomes ineffective, if not impossible at all. Consequently, the performance of such political institutes is wicked, and the community, in which they operate, suffers the most. This rationale also suggests that the contradiction between state authorities, first of all, stems from their desire to protect own interests, which often means neglecting or even acting against the interest of people.
Linking this insight to the discussed case of the ongoing conflicts between the U.S. ruling parties, one may assume that the approach of taking decisions in accordance with the friend vs. enemy rule is popular among the U.S. state authorities. Consider an example, the name of the book in itself, It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, illustrates that many politicians tend to express criticism and hostility towards Obama’s decisions only because he is a representative of the rival party (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). Mann and Ornstein reveal an example of defective cooperation between the main political institutions to get out the idea that the nature of the interaction between the state power forces should be changed. Scrutinizing the reluctance of politicians to collaborate in order to provide the best possible solutions and, respectfully, ensure the best possible future for their state, one can rephrase the phrase ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. In the case of the modern U.S. politicians, this phrase is turned into ‘the viewpoint of my enemy is my enemy’. Undoubtedly, this approach is bias; thus, it prevents the U.S. government from elaborating an effective system of actions that can help in solving economic issues without imposing additional financial burden on American citizens.
It is necessary to clarify that, in political sociology, the concept of institutionalism presumes that institutional demerits intensify in the conditions of uncertainty (Clemens and Cook 1999). This idea resonates with the politico-economic situation that is described by Mann and Ornstein. In particular, these writers analyze the period of the U.S. development right after the global economic crisis (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). The discussed book provides an explicit assumption that modern political institutes fail to cope with the consequences of the global economic crisis and are leading the state into a deeper economic and social depression (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). Referring to principles of political sociology, it is logical to suggest that the described situation creates opportunities for the institutional change. What is more, it engages the institutional change because, otherwise, the state is at risk of experiencing even greater politico-economic difficulties. The idea of the institutional change urgency is explicitly manifested in It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.
In this regard, one should study and comprehend the main drivers of the institutional change. It is considered that “mutability, internal contradictions, and multiplicity” may produce a significant change (Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 450). Mutability is defined as a great probability of changes (mutations). It is positively related to multiplicity because mutability tends to increase multiplicity while high multiplicity provides a basis for greater mutability. Similarly, both phenomena are driven by internal contradictions (Clemens and Cook 1999). Without a doubt, the above-detected drivers of change can be quite effective; however, their effectiveness directly depends on certain characteristics. For instance, scientists assert, “The consequences of variation in reliable reproduction for institutional change are powerfully conditioned by the extent to which those variations are contained, diffused, or mediated” (Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 450). Simply put, the nature of an interaction between political institutions, particularly, the level of the effects’ intensity they make towards one another predefines the magnitude of changes.
If one understands this peculiarity of institutionalism, it becomes clear that an important cause of the U.S. politicians’ failure to cooperate is the lack of possibilities for changes. This assumption is discussed by Mann and Ornstein in the second part of their book. Consider the rationale; it is obvious that internal contradictions exist, and they should have driven the change, but they themselves remain unchanged for many decades (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). In other words, the confrontation between the Republicans and the Democrats is as old as the parties themselves. That is why it does not provide new opportunities for mutability and, respectfully, multiplicity. The authors admit that with the time, the confrontation between political institutions become more aggressive and less ethical; therefore, it looks like new opportunities for the institutional change are created by the intensified rivalry. Nevertheless, while concentrating on fulfilling own interests and ambitions, representatives of different parties tend to apply for the above-provided rule of ‘the enemy’s viewpoint is a hostile viewpoint’. Consequently, this fact eliminates the possibility of negotiation. In these terms, it is natural to agree with the writers’ point of view regarding limited possibilities of institutional changes that become one of the core issues that induce the wickedness of the politicians’ performance.
What is more, political sociology suggests that “learning and innovation” (Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 451) can become the drivers of change. Scholars accentuate, “The content of institutions can change over time as a result of learning” (Clemens and Cook 1999, p. 451). Nonetheless, the identified lack of tolerance, which results in an inability to accept the opponent’s point of view, inhibits the process of learning, creating, and implementing innovative changes. It is another cause for the defective work of the U.S. political institutions that is discussed by Mann and Ornstein.
By endeavoring to provide feasible solutions that can improve the situation with the wicked performance of the U.S. political institutions, the authors emphasize the role of such a power network as the opinion-shaping process. It is not surprising that people’s views and attitudes are in the process of constant change. The direction of these mental transitions is being set and shaped by mass media. It is believed that the opinion-shaping process is aimed at imposing certain stereotypic ideas that should be shared by the majority (Domhoff 2010). Undoubtedly, these views should be in compliance with the actions of political institutions. Given the rationale, it is possible to assume that the limited possibilities for changes also depend on the lack of people’s independent thinking because it is shaped by the generally accepted views.
A conjunctive issue is that corporations possess a considerable power and, thus, can significantly influence the opinion-shaping process (Mann and Ornstein n. d.). This idea is another explicit assumption revealed in the discussed book. In particular, Mann and Ornstein (n. d.) attracts readers’ attention to the hostile anti-resident public claims made by such influential people as Stephen Schwarzman. Harsh public claims of powerful individuals are often accepted without being analyzed or criticized because people tend to believe the rich, influential, and successful members of their community. This situation complicates the change implementation by adding confusion and uncertainty to the American society.
Summing up the above-mentioned, it is necessary to highlight the following points. The book of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, provides insights to the contemporary institutionalism in the US. Specifically, it illustrates that the confrontation between political institutions stems from the lack of opportunities for changes. Similar internal contradictions cannot result in any new mutations; thus, multiplicity is inhibited. Besides, the blind adherence to the friend-enemy concept significantly complicates the success of the negotiation. As a result, the US continues to experience considerable economic issues that negatively affect common people, especially the socially disadvantaged. In addition, the lack of appropriate change is positively related to the inhibited process of learning and innovation in the interaction of the involved parties. Simultaneously, the process of opinion shaping is quite noticeable; it is manifested in the harsh content offered by mass media that considers hostile public statements of some powerful Americans. This situation leads to increased confusion in the society, which challenges the drivers of changes and makes the defective collaboration of the U.S. political institutions more prominent.
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