JOHN DERBYSHIRE: Our Remorseless Slide Into “The Politics Of Exasperation”—And Worse
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Recently I posted here at one of my monthly blogs titled ”From Derb’s Email Bag.” In among the items there I mentioned the widespread failure in the commentariat to note the distinction between a Bill and an Act. That was in regard to what everyone was calling ”the EAGLE Act,” a piece of legislation designed to relax the rules on guest workers. Legislation only becomes an Act, I grumbled, when it’s been passed into law. While going through the legislative process it’s just a Bill.

An old friend of mine who keeps a close eye on Congress as part of his job emailed in to say

Bill? Act? Does anything Congress does matter anymore? As Gibbon wrote: ”The senate of Rome, losing all connection with the Imperial court and the actual constitution, was left a venerable but useless monument of antiquity on the Capitoline hill.”

My friend is a sensible and learned fellow with many years’ experience of Congress-watching. Coming from him, such negativity made a deep impression.

Just a few days after that I read Robert Weissberg’s December 21st essay at American Thinker: America’s Growing Political Impotence.” Again, this is not some random commentator in off the street. Weissberg is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, with decades of teaching that subject in prestigious universities and a shelf-full of books to his name. So again, Professor Weissberg’s essay made a deep impression.

Professor Weissberg’s thesis is the ineptitude and incompetence of our governments, mainly of the federal government, and the consequent lawlessness. He walks us briskly through all the familiar examples:

  • Foreigners from all over ”almost effortlessly wading across the Rio Grande and then, with Washington’s approval, relocating to a benefit-filled life anywhere they could travel. Not even the most minimal pretense of legality exists…”
  • The massive increase in shoplifting while store security guards stand by watching. “In those rare instances where the culprit is apprehended, he almost immediately returns to ’work’…” 
  • The George Floyd riots of 2020: ”those asserting that this mayhem was just racially driven looting were condemned as racists responsible for the violence.” 
  • The homeless encampments that plague our once-beautiful cities: ”In San Francisco, luxury downtown hotels have removed all lobby furniture for fear of being overrun by squatters.” 
  • The cultural outrages: destruction of public monuments, drag queen shows for toddlers in public libraries, the enforced pretense that there is nothing biological about sex differences, …

And so on. Observing all this folly and incompetence of course arouses indignation and embarrassment in patriotic observers.

That’s not the worst consequence, though.

 The worst consequence, says Prof. Weissberg, is that as public confidence in the Government’s ability to carry out basic executive functions drains away, the government loses its legitimacy. And when constitutional government loses its legitimacy, the door is left open for un-constitutional solutions. We enter into a zone the good professor calls ”the politics of exasperation.”

Sixty-seven years ago a British journalist named Donald McLachlan  coined the phrase: ”the smack of firm government.” In a constitutional republic we of course want the smack to be administered lawfully, with proper constitutional authority.

However, when no smacks are heard at all—when foreigners wander into our country in the millions with no supervision, when robbers walk away smiling from brief court appearances, when rioters receive vocal support from senior public figures, when mentally ill vagrants poop in our streets, when statues of our national heroes are vandalized without penalty, when kids are taught in public schools that men can give birth—when these outrages continue year after year with no smacks at all, then citizens begin to long for the sound of smacking, constitutional or otherwise.

That’s a great danger; but that, according to Prof. Weissberg, is where we are headed. I believe he’s right.

It’s not that the federal government is inert, doing nothing at all. It sometimes does big, bold things. They’re just, well, exasperating.

This week, for example, it has passed a budget, laying out federal spending for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2023. Just to remind you: our Fiscal Year runs from October 1st to September 30th and is tagged with the calendar year in which it ends, so we are currently almost three months into Fiscal Year 2023.

Uh… Since we are already that deep into Fiscal 2023, isn’t current federal spending according to the budget for that year? So that the budget for Fiscal 2023 already, like, exists? If the budget doesn’t exist, how do the feds know how much they can spend, and on what?

Yes, there is supposed to be an orderly process like that; but because of the impotence and incompetence noted in the previous segment, it doesn’t get followed. The last time we entered a fiscal year with a budget in place was, I think, back in the Clinton administration.

Nowadays Congress just passes ad hoc bills and resolutions whenever there’s a danger that federal authority to spend will expire. That’s what they did September 30th: passed a Continuing Resolution to keep funding the government through to mid-December.

So this week we needed a new spending bill to see our government safely through to next September 30th. We got one, and it’s a whopper: 1.7 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of dollars; so what’s in the thing?

Most of it is basic stuff, funding federal departments. There’s $39 billion for the Justice Department, for example. That includes extra funding so they can ”support prosecutions related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism cases” [House sends Biden $1.7 trillion government funding bill, by Alayna Treene, Axios, December 23, 2022].

So if you were worried that the FBI might not be able to afford continuing to hunt down people who wandered into the Capitol two years ago, or might no longer have the funds to drag protesting parents away from school board meetings… set your mind at rest, Comrade.

There’s a lot of silly and obnoxious stuff too, though. Reading the New York Post report on the bill my eye was stopped dead at seeing $200 billion for the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, a global program to stop men beating their wives in Pakistan [Taxpayers feel the pain of politicians’ wasteful and absurd $1.7 trillion spending plan, by James Bovard, December 23, 2022].

Whoa! Two hundred billion, really?

Actually no, not really. With tabloid sources it’s always wise to check. That $200 billion is a typo for $200 million. Phew! Nobody could object to the feds spending $200 million on those Pakistani wife-beaters, but $200 billion’s a bit of a stretch.

Head Start caught my eye too. That’s a federal program to get educational and nutritional services to preschool kids from poor families, so that by the time they enter full-time schooling they’re ahead of the game.

Head Start is the program that never dies. It’s been on the road for 58 years now. Every so often a study is carried out to see if it has any long-term effects on kids’ school performance. Every durn time the answer comes back, ”no, no long-term effect at all,” and every durn year Congress jacks up the funding. In this bill Head Start gets twelve billion, and that’s not a typo. Twelve billion dollars more for a program that has been accomplishing nothing at all for nigh-on sixty years.

What about our immediate concerns, though? What about the crisis at our southern border, for example?

OK, Ctrl-F ”border,” whaddawe got?

In total, the bill designates $410 million dollars for ”enhanced border security” in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman. Jordan is guaranteed at least $150 million from the total allocation.
Omnibus bill will continue funding border security for Middle Eastern nations, by Julian Baron, ABCNews4, December 21,  2022]

A hundred and fifty million for the border security of Jordan? What about our border? Oh yes,

The spending bill also would extend a prohibition last year on using funds to construct border fencing in certain areas.
[18 Absurdities of the McConnell-Schumer Omnibus Spending Bill, by Richard Stern, Daily Signal, December 20, 2022]

So that’s an explicit prohibition on funding for our own border security. At this point you have to think that the congresscritters are just screwing with us.

What about plucky little Ukraine? Is there funding for them in the omnibus bill?

You bet there is. Aid to Ukraine is one of the biggest single items in the bill: $45 billion dollars [Final funding bill includes $45B for Ukraine, by Ellen Mitchell, The Hill, December 20, 2022]. That’s more than 2½ percent of the total $1.7 trillion—better than one dollar in forty. Put it another way, that’s $365 per U.S. household—just exactly a dollar a day.

How much of that $45 billion—which, by the way, is on top of $48 billion we’ve already provided—how much of it will actually help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion and how much will end up in the Cayman Island bank accounts of Ukrainian oligarchs and foreign leeches like the Biden family, I do not know.

Once again: As a nationalist, and as a simple matter of international order and justice, I’d like to see Ukraine win this war. To do that, they are of course going to need a lot of help. That help should be coming from their fellow Europeans, who have three times Russia’s population, five times Russia’s wealth, and two nuclear-armed powers among them.

We are the U.S.A., a busy commercial republic in the Western Hemisphere: ”the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all… the champion and vindicator only of her own” [John Quincy Adams, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on Foreign Policy, July 4, 1821].

Have we really learned nothing from twenty-one years of futile missionary wars and playing world policeman while discouraging our own actual policemen from doing their job? Apparently so.

If further evidence of this were needed, our federal legislators eagerly provided it on Wednesday this week. That was when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress, our own Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi simpering and giggling on the podium behind him.

The congresscritters were simpering and giggling along with the ladies, or at any rate repeatedly standing and applauding through Zelensky’s speech.

Not all of them, mind; there was a handful of exceptions. Newsweek magazine counted seven, all House Republicans, who stayed in their seats during at least some of the standing ovations.

Oh, you want their names? Happy to oblige. The seven non-simperers were, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Andrew Clyde, Diana Harshbarger, Warren Davidson, Michael Cloud, and Jim Jordan [Full List of Republicans Who Sat During Zelensky’s Speech, by James Bickerton, Newsweek, December 22, 2022]. All Republicans. Thanks to all of them for taking a stand… I mean, keeping a seat, against the general hysteria.

Which was of course bipartisan. Here in fact was Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, speaking on Tuesday, the day before Zelensky’s address. He was actually speaking in reference to the Omnibus Spending Bill.

Providing assistance for the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians—that’s the Number One priority for the United States right now, according to most Republicans. That’s how we see the challenges confronting the country at the moment.

Bunk. The Number One priority for the United States right now, according to me, is to avert the trend identified by Professor Weissberg: the remorseless trend towards the politics of exasperation.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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