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Our Democracy under stress

Posted in Politics and Justice by EloiSVM42 on July 27, 2018

Many historians, politicians and pundits are saying that, on the whole, our institutions and our democracy are holding up against the onslaught of the Trump administration. Presidential historian Jon Meacham’s new book, and Meacham himself in interviews, says we have had better times than this certainly, but we have also had worse times than this and gotten through them.

I am skeptical of this opinion on both sides of it. I can’t think of a worse time, and I’m not confident we are going to get through this one undamaged.

Our system of government is structured with three branches designed to create checks and balances on each other, but it just isn’t happening, is it?

Our Legislative Branch hasn’t functioned credibly for about two decades. It is paralyzed by cowardice and partisanship. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it panicked and cowered and let President Bush lead us into a disastrous war and ruin the global economy without so much as a whimper of dissent or a modicum of rational discussion, let alone action.

When President Obama was elected and succeeded in enacting Obamacare, Republicans gained control of Congress and spent six years in complete opposition and obstruction to anything Obama proposed thereafter, regardless of merit, with the result that little got done, and what did get done was done by executive action, which filled the vacuum somewhat, but was not what the Constitution intended.

The low point of Legislative Branch malfeasance occurred when Senate Leader Mitch McConnell denied Obama the right to perform his duty to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, which not only abused the Constitution at the expense of the Senate’s integrity, but damaged the credibility of the Supreme Court as well.

This was a truly dastardly deed, and while popular with conservatives today, will be looked on historically as a monumental disgrace. I think McConnell will ultimately be placed in the sedimentary layer of Senatorial history along with Calhoun, Helms, Eastman and Thurmond, that level of ignoble quality.

Today’s Republican controlled legislature has done exactly four things since President Trump was elected: kiss Trump’s ring after each assault he has made on our institutions, fill the Supreme Court vacancy McConnell stole, name some post offices and pass a tax cut that gave all our money to the very richest of us, will send the national debt through the ceiling and our economy into a ditch deeper than even George Bush could manage, and leave us no money with to do anything else, however important.

The Judicial Branch no longer functions as a judiciary at all. Judges are appointed on the basis of political ideology rather than merit, like the patronage system of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and the Supreme Court since Antonin Scalia, is as completely committed to partisan politics as the Legislative Branch.

For their part, the Senate now tends to vote on nominees along party lines.

Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the Court and whose work I enjoy reading on Slate.com, opines that Chief Justice John Roberts avoids though cases and prefers very narrow rulings to avoid the partisan heat of the times, but that in so doing is leaking the Court’s credibility with his caution. In my view, this is true, but it is also apparent that when it does rule on major issues, it rules radically and unfeelingly to the right at the expense of the will of the majority of average citizens and the Constitution.

Years ago, it occurred to me we shouldn’t depend on the courts so much, and focus on the legislative branch. Going to the Court was like going to mama to tattle. Things work out best when Congress, not the courts, make the call. When everyone feels they – at least through their representative – had a vote, decisions are more agreeably accepted.

I still believe that, but, sadly, about the time I reached this conclusion, Congress went into its current state of cowardly paralysis, too fearful take a vote on anything. The House, which has the sole authority to declare war, has  yet to vote on a war resolution  regarding Afghanistan, though President Bush began the war unilaterally 17 years ago in October, 2001, and President Obama specifically asked for that authority without response.

But, I still can’t see going back to this Court. I don’t trust it to do anything but swing more and more wildly to the right and decades farther back into the past.

Then, we come to the Executive Branch, which statistically is now the worst branch of them all. In the 21st Century, just 18 years in, we have elected, without a majority of the popular vote but via the Electoral College, perhaps the two worst presidents in our history. Bush is solidly the worst, but Trump may overtake him before he is finished.

To sum up, our government is failing Democracy 101, (despite heroic efforts by our Fourth Estate), and there are just two tests left for it to improve to a passing grade.

The first is the Mueller investigation – what, if anything, it finds, and how we as a country react to the findings. The second is the November mid-term elections. If ever a course correction were needed, this is the time. If none occurs, it is a short steep slope to the end.

I suppose some other event could blossom from a pop quiz into a full blown test, such as a Republican or two saying “Enough,” but I don’t expect it.

My  best hope, and frankly my expectation (keep in mind  that I expected Clinton to win the presidential election) is that the Democrats will win the House, subpoena Trump’s tax returns, which will show that not only has Trump been engaging in tax fraud for years, but has been laundering money for Russia. It’s the only way to explain Trumps’ behavior toward Russia. Putin has him by the legal scrotum.

 

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