Writer’s note: In case you feel like I’m repeating myself, you subscribers may remember a post by the same title that I published here last month. For reasons that you would not really care about, I removed it from the website. Now, I am returning the post to its rightful place, but in a much shortened (and editors would say “tightened”) rendition.
As we shift into the nitty-gritty phase of election season 2016, I wonder how many more belches of fear and hate will emanate from the Republican fear-generating factory. The fact that fear sells so well saddens me. What does it say about our society where so many thrive on fear and boost the poll numbers of Donald Trump, for instance, with every hateful abomination he spews.
Here’s an idea: if you are among the fear-aholics, why not find terror in the governmental gridlock that prevents any efforts to reduce gun violence, respond to climate change, reduce income inequality, address failing infrastructure, or even sustain progress in ensuring civil, voting, privacy, and women’s rights?
Instead of demagoguery, wouldn’t it be much more productive to focus on Congress’s incapacity to address America’s real problems, which have little or nothing to do with ISIS, the Chinese, Russians, Syrian refugees, or border-crossing Mexicans? The current governmental dysfunction makes me fear that my grandchildren will inherit a country that can only remember its greatness with nostalgia. I fear America will be a country that has abandoned its governing principles because our Constitution can’t handle the job.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution provides no easy fixes to an impasse caused by a Congress that sits on its hands. In his book, “The Royalist Revolution,” author Eric Nelson posits that our founding fathers, given their experience with an elected Parliament, sought to control the legislative branch with an uncrowned king called a president, i.e., a mixed monarchy. The president-king would have sweeping powers and a steadying hand to check the factionalism of the Congress. The two houses of the legislature would pass laws, but the president-king would have veto power.
And yet, the document failed to give the president any tools when Congress refuses to act or holds the Executive Branch hostage to their demands by not doing its job working or passing legislation. Is this a fatal flaw in our mixed monarchy model?
In fact, among Latin American countries that emulate our system, governmental impasse has been the cause of repeated failure, explains Yale’s Juan Linz. Unlike parliamentary/prime minister systems where either a deal can be struck between factions or new elections be called, the presidential model has no such mechanism. Hence, Latin American governments based on the U.S. model have oscillated between authoritarianism and dysfunction.
Clearly, our government is verging on dysfunction if not actually dysfunctional. Too many in Congress don’t understand the nature of governing or have long since jettisoned their knowledge of how it’s designed to work. In the name of saying “no” to Obama or taking “their” country back, they claim a mandate to undermine government instead of providing for the well-being of all Americans. Eschewing compromise and deal-making, they employ government shutdown, demagoguery, and non-action, to the detriment of us all.
So, why not vote these do-nothings out of office? Isn’t that the solution to government impasse that our Constitution provides? I realize that idea sounds naive in these modern days of gerrymandering, PACs, and billionaire’s funding of candidates that only serve to mock the principle of government for the people, by the people.
But still, I wonder, why not give voting a chance? The Census Bureau reported that only 41.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 Congressional races. So, what if we, the people, tried to get that number up to 80-90% as a national experiment in reclaiming democracy? After all, we know Congress isn’t going to reform campaign laws. And unless Jesus has espoused on the subject, many state legislatures won’t do it either.
The reality is that the U.S. Constitution came with no guarantees and few democracies have lasted as long as ours. Too many among us have taken America for granted by believing in the “genius” of our Constitution. There are also too many believers in the concept of American exceptionalism absent any rational reason for America being an exception among countries or democracies. To the contrary, we are experiencing an unraveling of our system, ripped apart by from the fringes, quarterbacked by the likes of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, just to name a few.
Is America up to the task of saving our democracy? President Obama says Americans can do anything we put our minds to. But I fear that his message is heavy with hope and light on certainty. Are we at the end of America as we have known it? That’s something worth fearing. I fear for us.