These are far from the pinnacle days of America's political system. Could the days only get darker? Yes.

There are many participants in the search for the bottom of Washington's partisanship, dysfunction and utter chaos. But maybe there is no bottom. With gerrymandered districts and the increased role of big-money donors, perhaps the system — and especially Congress — is in the opening decade of a half-century of its current condition.

The last few weeks on Capitol Hill have been enough to turn optimists into realists and realists into cynics. That last club might soon run out of membership cards.

The House's meltdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security set off fighting within and between the political parties. That's nothing new.

It was a seeming willingness among conservative House Republicans to stop funding the agency tasked with patrolling America's borders and safeguarding its soil that was new.

They were willing to shut down a hodgepodge departments, smashed together after 9/11 to avoid a sequel to that awful day, simply to make a point about President Barack Obama's recent immigration action.

Amid that fracas, Politico's Jake Sherman might have put it best when he tweeted: "How could anyone watch this and say tax reform, immigration or, frankly, anything will happen this year?"

It made the Senate seem almost functional in comparison.

But that façade has crumbled. The scene outside the Senate's regular Tuesday party policy lunches was enough to quash any hope of anything resembling comity.

In one scrum with reporters, Senate Armed Services Committee member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he "was flabbergasted" by a letter 47 GOP senators sent to Iranian leaders.

Nearby, another reporter asked Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., if a Republican move to tuck an abortion rider into an anti-human traf­ficking bill meant that Democrats would filibuster the entire thing. Hours earlier, in its "Morning Briefing" email, CQ topped its anti-trafficking coverage with this headline: "Senate Pauses on Contention, For a Bit."

Turns out "a bit" in Senate time is about five hours.

Even cynics should bet lawmakers will find a way to keep alive the 53-year streak of passing annual defense authorization bills. But the prospects for anything else, even on the formerly bipartisan issue of national defense, have taken a nose­dive. And in just two weeks.

"If that can happen these days," Nelson said of the Iran letter, "then I can't predict anything about the AUMF."

Everything from passing an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to a full 2016 defense appropriations bill are in jeopardy of dying due to one poison pill or a single big donor's gripe.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., even acknowledges the AUMF is becoming a major uphill fight.

In his September 1796 farewell address, George Washington warned his fellow citizens to "guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism." One has to wonder if he might conclude the political system now almost exclusively rewards pretend­ing. After all, ideological impostures reward pandering packaged as patriotism by ensuring smooth reelection primaries — and by writing big checks.