The benefits of gridlock in government

The writers of the United States Constitution did not want a national government that would work quickly and efficiently. They chose instead to build a government with checks and balances that would limit the power of the government and slow its ability to interfere in the lives of American citizens.

Therefore, they divided the government into three branches: a legislative branch that can make laws but has no ability to enforce laws, an executive branch that enforces laws but does not make or overturn laws, and a judicial branch that interprets and applies laws and that can overturn laws—but only when asked to do so by one or more citizens. The legislative branch is further checked and balanced by two houses which must agree with each other to pass a law. In the Senate, each state is equally represented; but in the House, states are represented proportionally. Members of the House must seek reelection every two years, so its members are focused on short term problems and interests. Members of the Senate hold terms of six years, so they can take a longer view of things. Potentially, the entire House could be changed in one election, but a minimum of two-thirds of the Senators would still be in the Senate after such an election.

Even when the President and the majority of both houses of Congress come from the same political party, the President and Congress maintain an adversarial relationship because of their different powers and concerns. During the past seventy-two years, American voters have frequently chosen to have the President come from one political party while the majority of at least one house of Congress represents the opposition party. When Congress convenes in January, the country will be in that situation again, as President Trump comes from the Republican Party while the majority of the House of Representatives—chosen by this week’s election—come from the Democratic Party.

What does this mean for the government of the United States over the next two years? The best-case scenario is that Democrats and Republicans—including President Trump—learn to communicate and to compromise, working together for the good of the country and pleasing Americans of various political viewpoints. Given human nature, a more likely scenario is that both sides experience frustration, unable to accomplish their goals. Given their desire for limited government, the framers of the Constitution would likely prefer the second scenario.

On the other hand, President Trump thrives on conflict. The more grief the Democratic members of the House try to cause him, the more he will rattle their chains in return. Already in the first half of his term, President Trump has been able to demonstrate that he has tried to keep his campaign promises but Congress and the courts have hindered him. We can expect the President to continue to act as he has been acting for the past two years. The dire consequences that his opponents in politics and among news reporters have been predicting have not come close to happening. For the next two years, we can expect much of the same results.

The Democrats in Congress would be foolish to attempt an impeachment of President Trump during the next two years. No matter what evidence they uncover, they are unlikely to find enough to convince two thirds of the Senate to remove him from office. Meanwhile, the time and energy spent on that useless venture would be time and energy not spent on seeking their other goals. For that they would suffer in the 2020 election. Their best ploy is to seek to compromise with the President and give him the option of working with them or spurning them. In either case, they would gain more from a posture of compromise than they can ever gain from continual opposition. J.

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Puerto Rico

This weekend, the residents of Puerto Rico who bothered to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the proposition of statehood for Puerto Rico. Previous elections on the topic have been less decisive, and some opponents of statehood for Puerto Rico boycotted the polls this year. However, only the United States Congress can grant statehood to Puerto Rico. What would happen if Congress responded to this election by making Puerto Rico the 51st state in the Union?

  • Puerto Rico would be the thirtieth state in population, just ahead of Iowa. It would have four or five Representatives in Congress, as well as two Senators. In presidential elections it would have six or seven electoral votes.
  • Based on past voting records, one may assume that most of those officials would be Democrats rather than Republicans. Given this fact, the likelihood of Puerto Rico being offered statehood by the current session of Congress is small.
  • Citizens of Puerto Rico would be required to pay federal income taxes, but they also would be eligible for additional federal assistance programs.
  • The following fact would be altered: Puerto Rico is currently the only region in the world that is neither an independent country nor a fully functioning member (state, province, etc.) of an independent country having more than one million residents. Most such regions are either very small or are sparsely populated. (However, the relationship of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China is ambiguous.)
  • Someone would have to design an arrangement of stars for the United States flag that contains 51 stars and is visually appealing.
  • The residents of the District of Columbia would probably increase their pursuit of statehood. Again, they would be unlikely to succeed during the current session of Congress, based on past voting records.
  • Consideration might be given to balance the four new Senators (likely Democratic) by creating two new states with Republican majorities. The easiest way to do this would be to divide Texas into three states, something which could not be done without the permission of the state of Texas. I consider this event to be extremely unlikely.

The voters of Puerto Rico have spoken. Whether or not the government of the United States answers them remains to be seen. J.

President Trump?

I have not posted much about the current election cycle in the United States. However, my most-read post in the first year of this blog asked and answered the question, “Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?” My statement that Trump is not the Antichrist is probably the nicest thing I have said about him this year. I do not want Donald Trump to be Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces. I do not want him to represent the American people in the eyes of the rest of the world. I do not want him to have one more success for which he can boast.

But I can imagine worse things happening than Donald Trump being elected President this November. If Trump wins enough delegates in primary elections to be nominated by the Republican Party, but then is denied the nomination through legal procedures by the party’s leaders, the Republicans will bring severe trouble upon themselves. Whether Trump runs as a third-party candidate or not, the people who have voted for Trump in the primaries are unlikely to support the Republicans in the general election. Some of them might not vote at all in November, but others are likely to vote—and probably not for Republicans, especially not for incumbent Republicans. Even if Trump falls slightly short of the necessary 1,237 delegates in Cleveland, his failure to win the nomination will confirm the beliefs of those who voted for him—and beliefs of many who did not vote for him—that American democracy is a sham and that the American government is no longer (in the words of Abraham Lincoln), “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

I do not want Donald Trump to be the next President, but I would prefer him in the White House over the disillusionment and anger of his supporters should he lose the nomination. Indeed, if Donald Trump is nominated by the convention delegates, supporters of Trump are more likely to vote for other Republicans, granting the party control of the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the White House. Control of Congress for the next several years might be worth the headache of President Trump.

I do not fear a President Trump because I still believe in the Constitution of the United States. Its system of checks and balances can prevent a bad President from causing much harm to the country. The President cannot create legislation (except when his proposals are adopted and proposed by members of Congress). The President can only approve or veto legislation, and a supermajority of Congress can override the President’s veto. Even the officers appointed by the President to serve in his Cabinet of advisors must be approved by Congress. Only Congress can declare war, and treaties made by the executive branch of government must be approved by the Senate. If the President tries to use his authority to work against the will of the Congress, the court system exists to correct the imbalance. Perhaps because of Donald Trump the practice of issuing executive orders that counter legislation passed by Congress will finally be challenged; then this aspect of executive authority will be clarified for present and future leaders.

Past Presidents have learned that they cannot even control their own branch of government. Thousands of career government workers fill offices in the executive branch; they continue doing what they believe is best no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Cabinet secretaries and sub-secretaries change, but the department workers continue in their jobs, often doing the same things no matter who is supposed to be in charge. The inertia of bureaucracy will stifle any President’s efforts to make large changes to government—even if that President is named Donald Trump.

Of course Christians do not put their trust in kings and princes. No President can save the world, and no President can destroy the world, no matter what is said in political debates. All authority comes from Above, and all who gain power must ultimately answer to the Source of their power. Meanwhile, godly people respect those with authority in this world because of the Source of their power; we respect them even when we disagree with their opinions, and we respect them even when we dislike their personalities.

We live in interesting times. I realized this weekend that, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate one another this fall, they are likely to sound like a political debate between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd in an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the prayer of every American Christian needs to be: “May God not grant our land the leaders we deserve.” J.