Tag: The Constitution

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.