Ezra Klein of Vox published an important article this week. It’s called “How To Stop An Autocracy” and includes one of those very long subtitles:
The danger isn’t that T___ will build an autocracy. It’s that congressional Republicans will let him.
Klein begins with a surprising statement:
There is nothing about the T___ administration that should threaten America’s system of government.
Why? Because the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution didn’t want anyone to have too much power:
The Founding Fathers were realistic about the presence and popularity of demagogues. The tendency of political systems to slip into autocracy weighed heavily on their minds. That power corrupts, and that power can be leveraged to amass more power, was a familiar idea. The political system the founders built is designed to withstand these pressures… The founders feared charismatic populists, they worried over would-be monarchs, and so they designed a system of government meant to frustrate them.
That’s the system we all learn about in school called “checks and balances”.
So why, then, are we surrounded by articles worrying over America’s descent into fascism or autocracy?
One reason, of course, is the President and the goons who carry out his orders or know how to push his buttons. At this point, that goes without saying.
The more important reason, according to Klein, is that there is no evidence so far that Congress will do its job:
The president can do little without Congress’s express permission. He cannot raise money. He cannot declare war. He cannot even staff his government. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to compel T___ to release his tax returns, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to impeach T___ unless he agreed to turn his assets over to a blind trust, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to take T___’s power to choose who can and cannot enter the country, they could. As [David Frum] writes, “Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president.” He just thinks they won’t.
It’s unlikely Congress will protect us from the T___ administration because of an historical development the Founders didn’t foresee: the overriding importance of political parties. Klein quotes an editorial from The Salt Lake City Tribune:
All that stuff about the constitutional separation of powers, each of the three branches of government keeping a wary eye on the other two, doesn’t mean very much if it is taken seriously only when Congress and the White House are held by different parties…
The Constitution assumes that human nature will push officials of each branch of government to jealously guard their own powers, creating a balance that prevents anyone getting up to too much mischief. But when elected officials are less interested in protecting their institution than in toeing the party line, it all falls apart.
That’s why we need to keep the pressure on our Senators and Representatives as the months go by. Klein concludes:
… it is in Congress members’ districts — at their town halls, in their offices, at their coffee shops — where this fight will be won or lost….The real test will be in 2018 — Democratic turnout tends to plummet in midterm elections, and overall turnout was historically low in 2014. The result, as political scientist Seth Masket writes, is that Republicans are more afraid of their primary voters than general election voters. Their behavior will change if and when that changes.
And that should change. It should change in 2018, and it should change thereafter. Congress is more powerful than the president. It comes first in the Constitution for a reason. The public should demand more of it, and care more who runs it….
In the end, it is as simple as this: The way to stop an autocracy is to have Congress do its damn job.
Speaking of which, our Congressman, Leonard Lance, is one of the 24 Republicans in the country who represent a district that Hillary Clinton won. That means he’s more vulnerable than most of his colleagues. He’s also a perfect example of what’s wrong with Congress. From Wikipedia:
In the 2016 presidential election, Lance … was a strong supporter of [T___], for which he was criticized by the editorial board of The Newark Star-Ledger for becoming part of T___’s “cancer” in the GOP. The editors lamented that Lance was one of the GOP’s “saddest cases”, undergoing a transformation from principled environmentalist and man of integrity to being a toe-the-line party regular. Lance’s 7th district was gerrymandered in 2011 to benefit the GOP…
Yet he looks like such a nice guy. He could be one of your favorite teachers from high school.
Today, Rep. Lance announced his first town hall of 2016. Only residents of New Jersey’s 7th congressional district will be admitted. I hope he’s ready for some quality feedback.
PS – As I was about to publish this, I saw that the Republican who heads the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who spent millions of tax dollars “investigating” the Benghazi incident, and who is one of the subjects of Klein’s excellent article (worth reading in full), is holding a town hall in his Utah district tonight. I hope he was ready for some quality feedback too: