On Restraining Government

All right, I know I’m breaking my bogging hiatus after one entire day (almost), but I did want to make an important point.

One of the responses to concerns over what exactly a Trump Administration will do is to say, “Well, the system has checks and balances in it. Congress will have its say. The Courts will have their say. The system is very robust.”

This is, to put it mildly, high-falutin’ bullshit.

Yes, our government technically has a lot of restraints on its power — the Bill of Rights, checks and balances, the rule of law, SCOTUS. But these restraint are not laws of nature; they only work when our leaders observe certain political norms. And as we have seen many many many many times in the past, ambitious or dictatorial politicians can violate those norms whenever it suits them.

The Constitution was no impediment when Andrew Jackson (to whom Giuliani recently compared Trump) sent thousands of Native Americans to die on the Trail of Tears. The Court actually ruled against Jackson and he ignored it.

The Constitution was no impediment to Lincoln when he shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned opposing politicians, coerced Maryland into not seceding and suspended Habeas. Quite the contrary, the Court and the Congress completely acquiesced.

The Constitution was no impediment to Wilson when he nationalized industries, jailed dissenters and imposed a draft.

The Constitution was no impediment to Roosevelt when he completely rewrote the Constitution, massively expanded government and stayed in office for life.

The Constitution was no impediment to Bush when he tortured people. Or Clinton when he started wars without Congressional approval. Or Obama when he expanded mass surveillance. It did not stop Kennedy or Nixon or Johnson or Clinton or Obama abusing the power of government to punish their enemies. And there is no constraint — formal or otherwise — over the President’s power to use nuclear weapons.

The Constitution is not a magic spell. It only works when our politicians observe certain norms and agree to abide by it. And it really only works when we the people force them to abide by it. And we the people have a really shitty record of holding politicians’ feet to the fire, especially when they are of our political tribe.

I’m not saying Trump is necessarily going to be a dictator. He’s not even President yet. What I am saying is that I’m not impressed by the safeguards built into the system and their ability to stop Trump (or Clinton, had she been elected) to do what they want. If you want these safeguards to work, the only way is stop being a piece-of-shit partisan and call out your side when it does bad things. Don’t make excuses. Don’t question people’s loyalty. Hold the politicians’ to the fire. Because that is all we have. Our liberty is too important for a trust fall exercise.

Comments are closed.

  1. stogy

    I’m not saying Trump is necessarily going to be a dictator. He’s not even President yet. What I am saying is that I’m not impressed by the safeguards built into the system and their ability to stop Trump (or Clinton, had she been elected) to do what they want. 

    I completely agree with this Hal. As I said yesterday, it may not be Trump who overthrows the constitution, it could be the person after him or the person after that. And it could come from either the left or the right. What needs to be strengthened are the institutions.

    Republicans bragging about how they stopped minorities from voting does not serve the interests of democracy and respect for laws in the long term. Political violence becomes a more enticing option for the disenfranchised.

    And gerrymandering congressional districts (mainly by the Republican party, which has also boasted about how successful they have been after they caught the Dems napping) will simply make Republicans even more lazy and corrupt than they already are (as it does to anyone who doesn’t need to work to stay in power).

    And things will only get worse for as long as we allow the wealthy to buy and sell politicians at will (I’m looking at you Lamar Smith!).

    And the ridiculous electoral college? Don’t get me started.

    Unless the institutions are addressed in a bipartisan way, the US will end up with a demagogue in power who will shit all over the constitution just as Putin, Chavez and Duterte have done in their respective countries. And the whole world will pay the price for that.

     

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  2. Hal_10000 *

    Lee always said that what concerned him about Bush’s constitutional violations was what the next guy would do. And the guy after that.  And the guy after that.  We’ve been letting this slide for 16 years.

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  3. Iconoclast

    The Constitution was no impediment to Lincoln when he shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned opposing politicians, coerced Maryland into not seceding and suspended Habeas. Quite the contrary, the Court and the Congress completely acquiesced.

    I have thought this for some time but never articulated it before now, but, while the Union won the Civil War and the Confederacy lost, it could be argued that We The People also lost.

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  4. AlexInCT

    Don’t forget how the media will suddenly discover how dissent isn’t racist or misogynistic, but patriotic. Or that the usual trope about having to wait until a real verdict has been rendered before a criminal can be called a criminal dying on the spot, as they will front page every ludicrous negative item (including many made up ones). Suddenly these sloths will find the will to dig through every trash dumper they can find for dirt instead of just asking the DNC what they should print (not that they will stop doing this of course).

    I hope Trump actually forces these douchebags to do a 180 and suddenly go after the shit they spent the last 8 years defending so the people can remain objective about the media’s lack of objectivity and downright propagandist take on things.

    Trump will be a mediocre president, but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. With Hillary I am sure things would have only gone from terrible to even worse. It may be a distinction without a difference, but it is what enough people realized and stopped.

    One thing I hope he does is force the discussion on why we need term limits on congressional membership, and makes them then also pass the Glen H. Reynolds amendment forbidding politicians from working as lobbyists for a decade after they leave government. This would end the current establishment and return the country to the people, but the grafters are bound to fight it tooth and nail.

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  5. CM

    as they will front page every ludicrous negative item (including many made up ones). Suddenly these sloths will find the will to dig through every trash dumper they can find for dirt instead of just asking the DNC what they should print (not that they will stop doing this of course).

    This is why part of me wanted Trump to win – it’s fascinating seeing the 180-degree flip first-hand. You and others had no issues spreading nonsense and bile about Obama from whatever source was available, but suddenly, over-night, it’s a bad thing and must be stopped? Brilliant.

    I hope Trump actually forces these douchebags to do a 180 

    How would that occur? Jail them?

    With Hillary I am sure things would have only gone from terrible to even worse.

    I expect to read this over and over again for the next four years as an ongoing excuse, and as an alternative excuse to blaming Obama. I’m sure you won’t disappoint in using both at every opportunity (after spending years mocking people for doing exactly the same thing).

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  6. AlexInCT

    This is why part of me wanted Trump to win – it’s fascinating seeing the 180-degree flip first-hand. You and others had no issues spreading nonsense and bile about Obama from whatever source was available, but suddenly, over-night, it’s a bad thing and must be stopped? Brilliant.

    You are shitting me right, CM? Bad stuff about Obama, unless they toned it down or downright lied to cover for it, never came from the LSM. It came from the insurrection that circumvented the media as even the douchebag that wrote this article points out. The LSM spend the last 8 years attacking everyone that pointed out how corrupt and criminal the Obama admin was as being motivated by racism or being conspiracy theorists.

    Must be lovely to live in the bubble you do.

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  7. CM

    ODS forever huh. Poor Trump, so misunderstood.

    I’m here, so pretty hard to run a bubble argument. Not that you’ve ever let logic get in the way in the past.

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