Axios reported on Sunday that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer directed the Senate sergeant at arms to no longer enforce the Senate’s dress code for senators, but not their staff, starting this week. Up to this point, senators were expected to wear business attire, meaning a coat and tie for men.
Granted, the dress code has been updated in the past. According to Axios, Sen. Amy Klobuchar petitioned her upper-chamber colleagues to make some changes to the dress code for women, which Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has fully embraced by regularly going sleeveless. But, until now, the male senators did not have the equal right to show off their guns.
There are several ways to interpret the new change.
Some would argue that this is small-ball. Enforcing a dress code should be the least of our worries when, amongst other problems, the border is wide open, the political opposition is being persecuted by the regime, and we’re staring down the barrel of a fiscal crisis like no other. In other words, Rome is burning and we’re talking about what clothes to wear to work.
Others would suggest that we get the leaders we deserve. If senators want to show up in basketball shorts and hoodies, as is the uniform of Sen. John Fetterman, let the people see how unrespectable they are. The system itself is no longer worthy of respect, and its appearance should reflect that. If senators want to wear clown clothes, all the better.
Of course, we must acknowledge that such a casual dress code is not ideal, but it’s certainly a silver lining when the people wake up and see that the emperor has no clothes. Perhaps voters will see what’s what and demand a course change.
Regardless of one’s feelings about the rule change, it is worth pointing out that not enforcing the dress code reflects several serious problems in American life. The first is our elite’s full embrace of post-modern Marxist ideology and Gramscian strategy, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
For those unfamiliar, Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was an Italian Marxist widely credited as influential in the development of critical theory. In what is perhaps his most famous contribution to Marxist thought, Gramsci wrote about cultural hegemony, which posits that the dominant class uses the institutions of civil society to propagate its worldview, making it seem normal or common sense to the rest of society.
While the Senate is an institution of government, and not necessarily civil society, a Gramscian might argue that formal business attire is a tool of cultural hegemony meant to oppress. Critical theorists have made such arguments about professional dress before.
See, for example, this article in the St. Johns Law Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development: “When Your Identity Is Inherently ‘Unprofessional’: Navigating Rules of Professional Appearance Rooted in Cisheteronomative Whiteness as Black Women and Gender Non-Conforming Professionals.” According to this radical worldview, the lack of a professional attire requirement in the highly traditional U.S. Senate is good because it undermines the norm of the “dominant class” that our leaders should be held to higher standards.
Of course, it’s common sense that senators should respect their constituents enough to represent them well, putting their best foot forward. That’s precisely why this change, while subtle, is important: it institutes a new standard. It says senators don’t need to be bothered with professional standards and expectations. After all, it’s not as if they’re accountable to the people. Gramsci would be proud.
Even if you don’t like the current regime — in the broadest sense — you should still want your senators to carry out their duties with more, rather than less, respect for their constituents and themselves. Indeed, it could be argued that the primary problem with Congress is a lack of respect for the American people. This small change will serve to further that lack of respect.
A second, but no less important reason that this change is a problem is that it is emblematic of our society’s push against high standards.
While most senators won’t dress unprofessionally now, if this lack of enforcement remains, standards for dress in the upper chamber will likely decline over time. A few rebels will run in from the gym for a vote dressed in athletic wear. Before long, jeans with a jacket will become the norm.
Perhaps a new generation of “hip” senators will wear Jordans with their suits. It’s a slippery slope to tech-bro hoodies and cargo shorts. If you think the system is bad now, imagine being ruled by a cargo-shorts Congress. No, thanks.
This slippery slope is what happens when our leaders lower or remove standards. Civilization is governed by standards that everyone is expected to uphold. If there are no standards, civilization will soon cease to exist. That is to say, with this new rule, we lose a bit of what made our civilization great.
Our society is already experiencing this erosion. Today, we have eliminated and lowered reasonable standards to accommodate those who can’t or won’t uphold them, while declaring such people victims. In doing so, we allow those who won’t meet the standards to not only determine what the standard is for everyone else, but we also elevate them to be our standard bearers. In other words, we make them our rulers.
Whether senators continue to wear suits or all start to dress like clowns, this new change is emblematic of the way our society now functions. Rather than leaders with high standards inspiring us to be our best, we have appointed leaders with no standards. It is no wonder that the bare minimum has become the expectation. It’s everywhere: higher ed, the military, business, the criminal justice system, just to name a few.
At the end of the day, the Senate dress code change is just one more example of the decline of American greatness.