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Is the American republic built to withstand a malevolent president? | Michael Goldfarb

The principle of common good underpins the constitution. Donald Trump is gleefully shredding that ideal

The Trump administration, having passed the six-month milestone in office, kicked off the next phase of his presidency with an explosion of crazy, spread over the past seven days. Like sweeps week on The Apprentice, every day saw some headline-grabbing event to garner ratings. It started with leaks against his former bosom buddy, attorney general, Jeff Sessions. President Trump, sources said, was planning to fire him. It moved on to a speech to the Boy Scouts of America jamboree, where Trump told the story of a property developer who lost a fortune and was lurking at a New York party with the hottest people. Later, there was a tweet announcement banning transgender people from the military.

This explosion of crazy concluded with his new White House chief of communications, Anthony Scaramucci, calling the New Yorkers political correspondent Ryan Lizza to trash virtually everyone in the White House. He compared himself positively to the presidents dark lord and special adviser, Stephen Bannon: Im not Steve Bannon, Im not trying to suck my own cock. Im not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the president.

Doesnt Scaramucci, or the Mooch, as he was known on Wall Street, have a mother? Wont she be ashamed to see him talking like that in public? The week ended with a big name fired: White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

And up on Capitol Hill things werent a lot less calm. There was the closed-door interrogation of Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law, on Russian connections to the Trump campaign. Then came the Republican Senate majoritys inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, featuring John McCain voting yes, to debate the bill, then no, to kill it stone dead until The Apprentice goes into reruns.

All of these events, and a dozen more I dont have space to mention, create a picture of utter chaos across the American government. Trump has ridden roughshod over not just the customs and norms of presidential behaviour but also basic standards of human decency.

Anthony
Anthony Scaramucci: foul-mouthed defender of Donald Trump. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

In doing so, he has forced journalists and the institutions they write for to change their basic standards of acceptable language. We use the words crazy and stupid now in our reports because some of the behaviour and actions of Trump and his team are crazy and stupid. We debate whether to refer to the Trump administration or the Trump regime, with all the pejorative connotations that word carries. The New York Times is still the Grey Lady, but it has to print sucking his own cock, because thats what the presidents top communications official said.

People on the outside wonder where the famous checks and balances are that have made American democracy function for more than 230 years? They are still there and, up to a point, still working. For example, presidential power was checked when Trumps ban on travellers from seven Muslim nations was halted by the courts. The ban is now mired in a legal process.

However, what the madness, abnormality or whatever you want to call it emanating from the White House does draw attention to is the real problem in American politics the Republicans are no longer a political party but a political faction, a much more dangerous thing.

The danger of factions was recognised at the foundation of the United States. In The Federalist Number 10, a highly influential essay on political theory published in 1787, James Madison defined faction as a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison understood the most dangerous thing that can happen in a society is for a group and its political representatives to act as if their view alone represents the nation. This leads them to think that they alone are the nation and the views of those who disagree with them not worthy of consideration.

Republican factionalism has led their elected representatives in Congress to upend existing constitutional customs as thoroughly as Trump has destroyed the existing norms of presidential conduct. They have defamed the design of Madison and Thomas Jefferson by refusing to co-operate with the Democrats in any meaningful way. In fact, the idea of a pluralist society is anathema to them and they have been trying to crush it for decades.

The design of the Founders balanced the inevitable competing points of view that would grow in a society where people were free to follow different religions and debate ideas openly. It was for a society that encompassed the competing world views of urban dwellers and farmers. Without respect for these rules the system cannot work.

The result is that the US has, over the past quarter of a century, become ungovernable at the national level. Sadly, Madison, having identified the threat in the 18th century that either a minority or a majority might become a faction, was unable to think of a solution to the problem that might work in the 21st. The minority in the country the Republican faction is now the majority in both houses of Congress and in the state governments. It holds the White House, although neither of the last two Republican presidents gained office while winning a majority of the popular vote.

Trumps overall approval ratings may be historically low but his support in the Republican faction remains remarkably high. And for a reason Trump has delivered for them. He appointed Neil Gorsuch, a hard-right judge, to the seat on the supreme court the Republican faction wouldnt allow President Obama to fill. Immigration from Mexico has slowed dramatically. And in a wave of executive orders, he overturned many Obama-era environmental rules and reinstated the Dakota pipeline project. Whats more, Trump daily drives liberals absolutely crazy with his politically incorrect tweets. The base of the Republican faction, roughly 36% of the population, will stay loyal to him.

Ultimately, the supreme constitutional checks on presidential behaviour remain article 1, section 3: impeachment, or the 25th Amendment (which deals with succession). If the Republicans were a political party as they were at the time of Watergate, that would have to be a consideration for Trump and his team. It might moderate the administrations behaviour if there were a genuine threat of being constitutionally removed from office. But there isnt. The Republicans are a faction and the president is one of them.

So Trump carries on in office, unchecked and unbalanced. A majority of Americans, and most of the planet, watch and say, this cant go on. But it can. For a while, at least.

Michael Goldfarb hosts the FRDH podcast www.goldfarbpod.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/29/is-american-republic-built-to-withstand-malevolent-president

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