Joshua Keating’s recent Slate article had a brilliant conceit: how would the U.S. media report on the current U.S. political crisis if it were happening in another country? The piece started:
WASHINGTON, United States—The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city. Beret-wearing colonels have not yet taken to the airwaves to declare martial law. Money-changers are not yet buying stacks of useless greenbacks on the street.
I recommend you read the whole thing, but the line that’s relevant to this blog is: “…the president’s efforts to govern domestically have been stymied in the legislature by an extremist rump faction of the main opposition party.”
The Oxford English Dictionary’s defines rump (in this context) as “A small, unimportant, or contemptible remnant or remainder of an (official) body of people, esp. a parliament,” and explains that it’s derived from rump Parliament, that is, “the remaining part of the Long Parliament, esp. in its second formation of 1659–60.” As befitting its origin, every citation for rump in the political sense is of British origin.
But it has occasionally been hauled out by Americans. One of the first to use it to refer to the Republican Tea Partyers who have been holding things up in the current mess was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (a Democrat). He was quoted as saying on Sept. 27, “The middle class, working men and women in this country, are the ones we were elected to serve. That’s who we should be thinking about. They’re the ones who are going to pay the price if these rump Republicans force a government shutdown.”
A few days later, Mother Jones magazine wrote, “Once again, a rump group of Republican radicals in the House are throwing the US government into chaos.” The day after that, a Baltimore Sun columnist opined, “fault for the current government shutdown lies with the rump, radicalized, tea party-beholden congressional Republicans who have no regard for the legislative process, the country’s credit rating, political traditions, or the U.S. Constitution they supposedly revere.”
Haven’t seen any beret-wearing colonels on the streets of Washington yet, but give it time.