Opinion: Where is the accountability in politics?

The United States government is based upon a two-party system, creating a highly polarized environment which engulfs both parties in constant petty squabbling. The weakening of political norms has created a dysfunctionality in American politics. According to the Indiana Law Journal, political norms “can be thought of as principles of right action that bind elected officials and serve to guide and control their conduct in office.”

Before 2016, we counted on politicians to restrain themselves. In referencing Dartmouth college professor Brendan Nyhan’s opinion, increased partisan polarization has weakened these restraints, blurring the lines between petty disagreement and written law. Attacking someone over their ethnicity? Norm violation, but not a law-breaker. White House jobs for your children? Another norm violation. Using a personal email address for work-related and personal correspondence? Close. 

When do we draw the line on barely-legal, bad faith political actions? Perhaps we draw it at encouraging followers to storm the U.S. Capitol.

The decision of whether or not to fully hold former President Donald Trump accountable for his involvement in the January 6th riots have been hotly debated, and allegiances are often drawn on party lines. That, and 48 other criminal offenses Trump has been “credibly accused of committing” before and during his presidency. 

The simple tactic would be to write these norms into law and enforce them in an appropriate manner. Theoretically, this could seem like the perfect solution.

However, on the other side, we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic how political figures fail to follow even their own rules. 14 elected Democratic officials were seen in large crowds, traveling even while being encouraged to stay home, failing to wear masks and hosting dinners. Although some of them apologized, it was still not a good look. 

Just this month, Los Angeles City Council president Nury Martinez was under scrutiny for saying racist comments about fellow councilman Mike Bonin’s son, who is Black. Although Martinez resigned from her role as president, Bonin also called for the resignations of Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, who were all present during the conversation with Martinez. 

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who were mentioned during the conversation also called for the full resignation of Cedillo, De León and Martinez.

“These are folks that I work with, folks that I’ve been colleagues with, folks that I considered allies and friends, and I think what we heard on the tape disqualifies them from service on the Los Angeles City Council,” said Harris-Dawson in an interview with ABC 7

Martinez has resigned and both Cedillo and De León were stripped of their committee assignments

As far as accountability goes, canceling someone each time a political figure makes a mistake might seem like the best option if they believe the natural system of accountability has failed them. However, when gone too far, this further stokes the political flames as the definition of “cancel culture” varies with the political spectrum. Rather, “consequence culture” should replace cancel culture. 

Analyzing the multitude of implications, including the legal ramifications, that ignoring a norm or rule could lead to is our best solution. For a government to stand, law and order must work hand-in-hand with moral behavior.