Thursday, May 30, 2019
Does "Separation of Powers" Accurately Describe the USA? I apologize in advance to my readers who are Tom Steyer fans, but this guy really is over the top. Steyer, the Democratic activist whose NeedtoImpeach.com organization has amassed more than 8 million signatures in support of impeachment, said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent statements were "honestly, silly.'' What did the Speaker say that veered into "silly?" When Speaker Pelosi reacted to the only public comments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, "she promised that congressional Democrats will continue their constitutional duty of 'investigating and litigating' to seek 'ironclad' evidence of wrongdoing by President Donald Trump.
Steyer was not satisfied and pronounced the Mueller report provided the "ironclad evidence" Pelosi sought. Steyer continued, "We have a President who literally won't speak to Congress, let alone answer their subpoenas or provide any witnesses on anything. The President has said, 'I am not subject to oversight by Congress ... the Constitution be damned." [Editor: I have yet to find a direct quote from President Trump that the Constitution provides 'congressional oversight' of the President and I have asked Mr. Steyer to point to the provision in the Constitution that gives it this power - I'll report next time on his response].
Now I will agree with some critics of the growth of "Imperial Presidency"; that was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution. In Federalist 51, James Madison justifies bicameralism in terms of maintaining congressional authority. "It is not possible to give" the judicial and the executive branches "an equal power of self-defense" against the Congress, because that would undermine the republican quality of the government, where "the legislative authority necessarily predominates." Instead, the proper safeguard against legislative abuse is "to divide the legislature into different branches," which will "render them . . . as little connected with each other" as practicable.
And Mickey Edwards - a former eight-term member of Congress and chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee - observed in 2017 that his teaching of government at Harvard and Princeton was flawed. "I taught my students a system of government based on the Constitution. I thought I was teaching about current events. Instead, I now realize, I was teaching ancient history," said Edwards. Edwards' take on today's separation of powers is that it is "no longer between the three original, constitutionally created, branches of government ... but between, on the one hand, a branch consisting of the President, his supporters in Congress and their mutual supporters on the federal bench; and on the other hand, a branch made up of the party in opposition to the President, his opponents in Congress and their co-partisans on the bench." (You can read his article here)
What Edwards neglected to include in his analysis is the role of voters. You could add to his commentary after the judiciary, "voters who support the President and voters who oppose the President." They are as polarized (and polarizing) as the others. And as Stephan Chapman pointed out in Reason, "Donald Trump exploits this growing political and cultural separation. Extreme, vocal ideologues are gaining ground on both the right and the left. One-third of likely voters, a poll found, think we are on the verge on civil war."
But lest I leave you with my usual dour view on political life, Chapman offers Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford University and the Hoover Institution "who does us the favor of explaining why much of what we worry about is unfounded."
Fiorina observes that in the 1950s, 75 percent of Americans were happy to call themselves Democrats or Republicans, but today, only 60 percent identify with either party. Independents now make up a plurality of the public. Self-described moderates outnumber either liberals or conservatives. Fiorina says, "most people are not very conservative or very liberal. But the middle has no home in either party. That's one reason more Americans call themselves independents."
Chapman concludes, "The bad news is that our democracy does a poor job of giving the people what they want." The struggle is to decide what America wants, and how to deliver it in a political culture where cooperation and bi-partisanship seems to be non-existent.