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There is a concept in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect, a form of cognitive bias in which we tend to overestimate our abilities in the areas where we are actually the most incompetent.
Essentially it boils down to lacking enough knowledge to even be able to sufficiently evaluate your own skills at a certain task. As I told my friend recently after a particularly frustrating game at the rec center, it wouldn’t be pick-up basketball if the worst player on the court didn’t shoot the ball every time they touched it.
Everyone has witnessed this effect in others and we have all undoubtedly been victims of our own oblivious ineptitude. Personal failings of humans are excusable; no one is infallible.
But witnessing serial incompetence by those in charge of our country is another thing entirely.
The most recent example, plucked from the top of a large stack generated in barely two months, is last week’s embarrassing defeat of the Republican party’s latest joke of a healthcare bill.
Trumpcare, Ryancare, the American Health Care Act – call it what you will. In reality it was a literal piece of garbage penned by Ayn Rand fetishist and fake smart-guy Paul Ryan – who is also the Speaker of the House and the best Republicans can muster up when trying to produce some kind of policy expert – to “fix” our healthcare system by insuring 24 million fewer Americans and making everyone else’s rates go up.
I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more humiliating spectacle in the decade or so that I’ve been paying attention to politics. Since the day Obamacare was signed into law seven years ago, Republicans have done nothing but preach it as the cause of the impending collapse of civilization and a slow and inexorable descent into the living hell of healthcare coverage for everyone, even poor people!
While Obama was still in the White House, House Republicans voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare. It was the focus of nearly every legislative drama that played out in Obama’s second term. In Sept. 2013 Ted Cruz filibustered for 21 hours to try to defund the program. A few days later the House refused to pass a government spending bill unless it defunded Obamacare, then proceeded to shut the government down for two weeks.
Now, when the Elephants control the House, the Senate and the presidency, instead of taking the steps necessary to craft a bill that satisfies the various factions within their own party, has a decent chance of getting through the Senate and doesn’t completely screw-over their constituency, they tried to ram through an objectively terrible bill that met none of the above requirements.
It took Obama and Democrats thirteen months to write and pass Obamacare. Trump has barely been in office for eight weeks. Obama was instrumental in writing Obamacare. Trump, the veritable king of Dunning-Kruger himself, didn’t even know what was in the AHCA and reportedly kept asking aides, “is this really a good bill?”
During campaign season Trump repeatedly stated that Obamacare would be repealed and replaced with something better and cheaper that would provide healthcare for everyone. Then, instead of compromising and building consensus, he tried to strong arm reticent Republican congress members before calling for a vote on the bill just because it was the anniversary of the passage of Obamacare (symbolism!), then telling Ryan to pull the bill completely when it became apparent that it was going to fail.
“Rookie’s error,” said minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, “you do not bring up your bill just to be spiteful to the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. You build your consensus in your party — and in the Congress, hopefully — and then you bring up the bill.”
Trump prides himself as being a master negotiator and ran partially on the idea that his business expertise will translate seamlessly to politics. People love to say that the government should be run like a business. Now I’m not a businessman, but I think it’s safe to assume that most businesses don’t operate with chaos as a guiding principle. Also, it appears that convincing/forcing a congressman to vote for a bill that is a bad deal for all of their constituents is a lot harder than negotiating a lease. Maybe the “Art of the Deal” doesn’t apply as much as some of us thought.
So while the Dunning-Kruger presidency bumbles on, we find ourselves surrounded by incompetence. We have a president who knows nothing, but doesn’t know it and we have a government controlled by a party that had seven years to come up with a solution to fix a program that they continually say is “imploding,” then proceeded to pull a Hindenburg and crash and burn in spectacular fashion. Our president knows nothing about government and our Congress knows nothing about governing.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, summed it up nicely: “sometimes you’re playing Fantasy Football and sometimes you’re in the real game. We knew [Obama], if we could get a repeal bill to his desk, would almost certainly veto it. This time we knew if it got to the president’s desk it would be signed.”
April first is a few days away. Do me a favor and hold the practical jokes. I’ve had enough of fools lately.
Zane Womeldorph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at @zwomeldo.