The GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better

Summary: President Trump might spark a change in our politics both unexpected and (as it will seem afterwards) inevitable, making our 18th century constitutional regime more similar to modern parliamentary systems. If he continues to act wildly and weirdly, the Republicans in Congress might impeach and remove him — putting the solidly far-Right Mike Pence at the helm. Trump would be the first President removed by Congress, but not the last. The occasional impeachment of Presidents would make Congress the Federal power center the Founders intended it to be.

America's Constitution

A long-time concern of constitutional lawyers and political scientists has been the fundamental instability of presidential governance systems, like that of the USA. How are deep and irreconcilable conflicts between Congress and the President resolved? Worse, what happens if we get an incompetent President after he loses the confidence of Congress, the public, and perhaps even senior executive branch officers? Especially at a time of national crisis, the result could be disastrous — with no obvious remedy. For example, see “American democracy is doomed” by Matthew Yglesias at VOX.

In the early 1980s Bruce Ackerman (Prof Law, Yale) began to study the process of constitutional change in America. He found an informal method of evolution other than the formal processes specified in the Constitution, which he called “higher lawmaking” (summary here). After the great crises of the Civil War, the Great Depression, and WWII — America’s political regime bears little resemblance to its form during Washington’s administration. The Trump years might create its next great test.

Much of America’s social change since WWII results from elites’ recognition that they can break the informal social norms that govern their behavior. Doctors can practice medicine as a business and become rich. CEOs can arrange corporations to pay themselves fantastic sums and so become plutocrats. Elected representatives can arrange to become almost permanent fixtures, retiring wealthy.

All of these changes seemed impossible before they happened, until they realized that the social norms that constrained them were just paper shackles. In the next few years Congress might realize that they can impeach a President at will, drastically changing the structure of US government to more closely resemble the parliamentary governments used by almost all other republics (for good reason few nations have copied our odd structure). Trump might force this break in precedent; its effects will change America’s government forever.

To better understand this, let’s turn to someone from a nation with a longer history and who sees the Constitution more clearly (distance gives perspective, allowing a dispassionate analysis). He shows that the Constitution’s 175 words about the impeachment process give Congress a powerful tool with few limits, limited mostly by Americans’ customs — which can change.

Read more

Advertisements

After Orlando, should we repeal the second amendment?

Summary: Orlando, as usual for a crisis in America, brings forth calls to rip another strip from the Constitution. But the Second Amendment worked well for us for two centuries, until conservatives decided America needed more guns in more hands. Orlando is another example of the results. But there are solutions that do not require another amputation on the Constitution. Celebrate Flag Day by remembering the Constitution, and defending it.

Repeal the Second Amendment.”
— Reaction to the Orlando shootings by Erik Loomis (Asst Prof History, U RI).

Constitution & guns

The rule of crises in America is that our elites exploit them to strip away pieces from the Bill of Rights. Both Left and Right are complicit in this. They are a tag-team working against us. Each has their favorite amendments and those they seek to erase.

After generations of this, its amendments have been pruned like the withered branches of an ancient oak tree. Most of the Bill of Rights remain de jure in force but are de facto void.  They attack it to fight “crime” (the 6th largely void for those who fall into our misnamed criminal justice system) and “terrorism” (the 4th being their latest victim). Amendments 7, 8, and 9 are almost dead letters. The third is obsolete.

Now it’s the Left against the second amendment. Not only is this an attack on the Constitution, it’s bad political tactics, self-marginalizing by the Left. See “Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment” by David S. Cohen in Rolling Stone.

A few more generations it will become a totem, like Magna Carta, or poetry like the Declaration of Independence. (For more about this see Forecast: Death of the Constitution.)

What about Orlando?

Update: a commenter noted that even strict gun-control laws are unlikely to prevent a licensed security guard from getting some form of gun.

We learned to control guns in America, adequately if not as well as have other nations. It kept the rate of mass killings at a high but tolerable level. This system worked for two centuries. It allowed local diversity of laws to suit regional cultures. While we slept, right-wing ideologues — backed by the unassailable might of money — have taken this from us.

Relentless pressure by conservatives at State and local levels have eroded away their gun laws. In 2008 the national legal regime changed with the activist conservative judges on the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (conservatives overthrow State’s rights when convenient).

Now we’re going backwards, seeing behaviors unknown in developed nations for many generations — such as open carry of guns. And lots of mass shootings. How many? Life is cheap in America, so the government tracks thousands of kinds of financial activity. But it doesn’t track mass shootings — there are several definitions — just as it does not accurately track shootings by police.

Read more

Mike Lofgren: Republicans Are Revolutionaries, Not Conservatives

Summary: Here’s another article describing how America has begun what might be a pre-revolutionary situation. Both Left and Right have revolutionary aims, but only the Right has captured and harnessed one of the major parties. Great changes often come in unnoticed “on little cat feet“, and only roar after they’re well-established.

“’Republicans this year don’t want managers, they want transformers,’ conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, a Cruz supporter, told The Hill. ‘They don’t want reform, they want revolution. They don’t want a better government, they want a new government. The ground has shifted and the grassroots conservatives have taken the establishment’s preeminence away.’”
— From “Governors flop in Republican race“, Jonathan Easley, The Hill, 8 Nov 2015.

Revolution

Republicans Are Revolutionaries, Not Conservatives

by Mike Lofgren
Posted at Bill Moyers & Co, 9 November 2015
Posted here with the authors’ generous permission.

There is much to commend in Thomas Schaller’s recent piece describing the built-in structural advantages that the Republican Party enjoys in the American electoral system. Some analysts believe this advantage derives from the systematic gerrymandering of legislative districts; others declare it a result of a voluntary demographic “sorting” of Democrats into metropolitan areas and Republicans to exurbia. Schaller sees that it is both and that the two phenomena reinforce one another.

Structural bias: It’s worse than you think

That said, the structural imbalance in the American political system is even more pronounced than Schaller depicts. The “small state” bias in the Senate that he condemns derives from the Connecticut Compromise during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the agreement that gave each state equal representation in the United States Senate. It was initially favored by smaller Northern states, which were then growing less rapidly in population, but after incorporation of the infamous three-fifths rule allowing states to include slaves in their head count for representation in the House, it became a tool of the reactionary Southern oligarchy to block any tampering with slavery for the next seven decades.

Yet even after the three-fifths rule and slavery were abolished amid the greatest effusion of blood in American history, the same elements that controlled the antebellum Senate continued to have a lock on that chamber until the 1960s. Ira Katznelson has described in persuasive detail how the many reforms – sweeping in their scope – that President Roosevelt believed were necessary both to save capitalism from itself and to modernize the United States were delayed and watered down by the Southern bloc controlling the Senate. And it took another thirty years after that to end Jim Crow.

Read more

The Left will rue the day they cheered an activist Court

Summary:  The reactions to the Court’s ruling on Obamacare and same sex marriage divide on predictable partisan grounds, as Americans seek what they want. We care little about Constitutional procedure and less about the work of making the machinery work as the Founders intended. It’s the thinking typical of political regimes’ last days, when belief has gone and people just follow the forms.  {We’re back to one post per day, as I consider winding down this project.}

Justice lying down

The Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriages. David Fontana at Slate gives some of the typical liberal cheering for the Court’s decision on same-sex marriages: “The Justices’ Justice” — “For years we feared the consequences of pushing social progress through the courts. Obergefell v. Hodges will prove we shouldn’t.”  I suspect he’s cheering prematurely.

For a clearer example of thinking on the Left see Matthew Yglesias’ reaction, exultant and quite daft (red emphasis added)…

What’s more, it’s a huge analytic mistake to assume that striking down some law is an anti-majoritarian action. The way the United States government works is that change is very hard. Given the current state of gridlock in Washington, it’s pretty clear that neither a gay marriage legalization bill nor a gay marriage illegalization bill could pass. On marriage equality, like on virtually every other issue, the status quo is simply likely to prevail. Into the breach steps the Supreme Court — in this case, on the side of the majority according to polls.

All in all, I think the American system of checks-and-balances has a lot of flaws. But unelected judges invalidating unjust laws that a majority of the public wants invalidated is basically the system working at its best.

Read more

The Barons of England warn us not to throw away what they gained in Magna Carta

Summary: 800 years ago on a field at Runnymede the Barons of England took a large step for humanity. The consequences of their actions still echo today. Now we’re losing what they won for us. On this anniversary recognition of that sad fact can alarm and inspire us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
— Written by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (11 November 1755).

King John signing Magna Carta
If only we were so bold and strong.

Our elites greet the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (the Great Charter) with “no big deal; move along.” A New York Times op-ed by Tom Ginsburg tells us to “Stop Revering Magna Carta“,, He’s a professor of international law & political science at U Chicago. Law professors are often among the leaders of the movement against our liberty.

The Wall Street Journal of course bats for the anti-liberty teams, with the news headline “Magna Carta Celebrations Reignite Legacy Debate: some question the importance of the document“. Its editors live for the day they can run that headline for the Bill of Rights.

The Economist misleadingly says “The great majority of its provisions have been repealed: of the original charter’s 63 chapters only three — one confirming the freedom of the church, one confirming the liberties of the City of London and the crucial chapter 39 — remain on Britain’s statute book” (except that many of the other provisions remain codified in laws expanding and deepening MC’s provisions).

These blasé sophisticates misunderstand the significance of Magna Carta. It matters little that many of its provisions are meaningless or repugnant to us, that King John repudiated it, or that it was often forgotten for generations (then rediscovered).  Runnymede on 15 June 1215 was a milestone on the long road paved with “blood, sweat, and tears”. The meeting at Philadelphia in 1787 laid another milestone, one now being lost.

Read more

Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?

Summary: We’re losing to the 1%, and articles like this show why. Reformers dream of changes to the system (like the amendments proposed here) while the 1% builds the machinery to make changes happen. They’ve invested the time, effort and money; now they reap their reward. It need not be this way.  {1st of  2 posts today.}

“The throne is never vacant.”
— Russian aphorism. If we choose not to govern, then others will.

Amendments to the Constitution

It’s Not Too Late: Save Democracy By Amending the Constitution

By John Nichols, The Nation, 6 April 2015
“Corporations are not people, money is not speech,
and votes must matter more than billionaires’ dollars.”

Nothing locks in inequality and dysfunction like a constitution so imprecise that it allows right-wing judicial activists to make buying elections easy and voting in them hard. But don’t just blame “constitutional conservatives” for turning our founding document into an outline for oligarchy. Fret about liberal constitutionalists who imagine we’re just one thrilling presidential appointment away from making our democratic vistas real. Like Democrats dreaming of another FDR, liberals waiting for another Earl Warren miss the point. Our democratic destiny is not something to wait for — it’s something we have to make happen. Dissident Americans have been bending the arc of history by rewriting the US Constitution since amendments were added with quill pens. Today’s dissenters should be about the business of doing so once more.

… The real friends of the Constitution today champion a “move to amend” that would declare that corporations are not people, that money is not speech, and that votes must matter more than billionaires’ dollars. Sixteen states and some 600 communities have recently demanded that Congress initiate a constitutional response to the judicial activism that has allowed elites to commodify our politics and corporatize our governance. At the same time, activists are taking up a proposal by Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison to end the crude assault on voting rights with an amendment that establishes, finally and unequivocally, a right to vote and to have every vote counted. These are good starting points, but they are not an end to anything.

Read more

A Tale of New America: a judge burns the Constitution

Summary: Today we have another Tale of New America, as the government exempts from legal challenge the shadowy neocon group United Against Nuclear Iran. The tale is told here not as information (clickbait), but to spark your anger and action at what’s happening to the Republic and what we have become.   {1st of 2 posts today.}

“United Against Nuclear Iran”
Let’s make it a dawn, not a sunset.

For a decade I and many others have documented the decline of the Republic and its replacement by a plutocracy. We’re now far along in this, as the 1% begins the “pursuit” phase (the endgame) in which they exploit their victory to crush their foes (preventing subsequent conflict), and begin the post-bellum restructuring of law and society to accommodate their values and appetites. The changes to date were on the gentle downward slope of an “S Curve”. Now we enter the steep section as the 1% makes large obvious changes, without fear of effective opposition. This is our daily news.

The police become both militarized and bolder in their brutality (as in yesterday’s vignette, and the other posts about police brutality). The government becomes more open about their mass domestic surveillance; Obama boasts about ordering assassination of America citizens. Public excitement about these things produces no substantial change, just a delay in their advance.

Today we have another outrageous tale, as the government displays its power over the now-impotent institutions created by the Constitution. Accounts of these provide clickbait for the news media, excitement for the outer party (We’re informed!), and boost the reputation of the Deep State. Win-win-win.

So let’s turn to Glen Greenwald at The Intercept for today’s sad story: “Court Accepts DOJ’s ‘State Secrets’ Claim to Protect Shadowy Neocons: a New Low” —

A truly stunning debasement of the U.S. justice system just occurred through the joint efforts of the Obama Justice Department and a meek and frightened Obama-appointed federal judge, Edgardo Ramos, all in order to protect an extremist neocon front group from scrutiny and accountability. The details are crucial for understanding the magnitude of the abuse here.

Read more