Unintended Consequences

Policy driven by loyalty, passion, and frustration can lead to unintended consequences.

Young Gavrilo Princip was acting out of loyalty to his nationalist vision for Serbia when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1914.  He didn’t mean to become the excuse to start World War One. Yet, that’s what happened.  He hadn’t fully thought through the consequences of his impulsive action, most importantly he did not anticipate how Austro-Hungary would use the assassination against Serbia itself.  Austro-Hungary understood how the web of treaties between various governments meant many nations would be drawn into the war. They did not anticipate how deadly their war would be.  New military technologies and tactics made the war extraordinarily devastating.  At least 16 million people died – and the Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up.  Unintended consequences.

On November 21, 2013, Harry Reid and 51 other Democratic senators changed the Senate’s rules for the approval of executive and judicial nominees, excluding nominees to the Supreme Court. They changed the threshold for approval from 60 out of 100 votes to only 51 votes. They did so to get around what they felt was Republican obstructionism.  They did not expect that soon the Republicans would control the Senate and copy them, this time changing the rules to make it easier to approve Supreme Court nominees – Neil Gorsuch in this case – while also easily approving a number of lower court nominees.  Unintended consequences.  What will happen when the Senate flips again – as eventually it surely will?

Politicians and political operatives in both major parties are now gearing up for a serious fight over the Mueller investigation.  Would it make sense to slow down, calm down, and try to avoid yet another round of unintended consequences?  Perhaps try to preserve our system of checks and balances so that both major parties and their leaders are fairly treated under the law no matter which party controls the Senate or the House?

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