I don’t have cable TV access, so I don’t usually watch MSNBC, CNN and Fox. I also don’t really watch the traditional networks. But for a variety of reasons I spent the last few days viewing some traditional cable and network TV. I also spent some time on the Facebook pages of many of my progressive friends. I wanted to see what their priorities were coming up to July 4, and I wanted to try, and I emphasize the word *try* to understand their worldview better.
It was very unsettling. There appear to be millions of people who are convinced, or at least they say they are convinced, that President Trump is the next coming of Hitler. They also seem to be convinced that the Mueller investigation will turn up evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians to get elected. They are convinced Trump is the only reason that children are being separated from their parents on the border. They are convinced that because of Trump’s Supreme Court picks women will soon not be able to get an abortion in the United States, and some of them even seem to believe that Trump wants to take away women’s access to birth control.
The purpose of this post is not to refute or mock these beliefs. The purpose is simply to point out that the people who believe the above things live in a completely different reality from me and most of my friends. I see the above list of beliefs as so far from my reality that I cannot even begin to see how I could have a discussion on these issues because we are living in different worlds. If you have seen the movie “The Matrix,” it is as if the people above are living inside the Matrix and the rest of us are not. Or, to use another example, it is as if the people above truly believe the world is flat while the rest of of know it is a sphere.
But I also recognize that my paradigm seems equally strange to these people. If you are a progressive, you probably feel like trying to dialogue with me is like talking to a flat earther (or somebody who is in the Matrix) as well.
So, if there is one thing we should be able to agree on, it is that our beliefs make it difficult to communicate.
The purpose of this post is to convince progressives of another thing we should be able to agree on: if the federal government, specifically the executive and the judicial branches, had less power, you would not have to be as worried about the Hitlerian Trump. A less powerful Trump — and a less powerful Supreme Court — means fewer threats to you and your beliefs.
First, a shot of reality. It is likely that Trump’s Supreme Court pick will be approved by the Senate in 2018. It is possible that Trump may win the presidency in 2020. That means that Trump may get one or two more Supreme Court picks by 2024. And it is also possible that Trump could be replaced by somebody like Mike Pence in 2024.
I say this not because I am *predicting* it will happen. I am simply pointing out that it is *possible*. If Trump wins in 2020 and a Mike Pence type wins in 2024, progressives will have to face a much more conservative Supreme Court with seven and perhaps even eight strong conservatives.
Talk about your progressive nightmares.
So, my progressive readers, can you see how this powerful central government that you helped create can be turned against you? Can you see that self government and states’ rights may be your refuge during this, for you, a potentially very depressing era? Can you see that while the federal government makes decisions you disagree with, your state government of New York or California or Massachusetts might govern in ways you can appreciate?
Well, it turns out that this was the original vision of the Constitution, ie, powerful state governments and a very weak federal government. The original vision of the Constitution was for a relatively weak executive branch and even a relatively weak judicial branch. Power was intended to reside primarily at the state level and, when it comes to the federal government, the House of Representatives. (Remember, progressives, the Dems have a decent chance of retaking the House in 2018).
This post is getting way too long for me to outline the argument for the proposition that the Constitution intended most power to reside in Congress and the states. I would urge you to just read the document itself. Article 1 discusses the legislative powers and clearly indicates that most government power resides in the legislative branch. Article 2 discusses the executive, and is is striking how few things the president and the executive branch are supposed to do. This is even more clear for the judicial branch, discussed in Article 3.
while the federal government’s three branches were designed to balance one another, they were not created equal. It’s easy to forget in this era of Olympian judicial supremacy and executive Caesarism, but the constitutional powers vested in Congress in Article I are orders of magnitude stronger than those granted to the president and Supreme Court in Articles II and III. Congress alone is empowered to write laws, levy taxes, spend money, and — if necessary — unilaterally defund the other branches or even remove their leaders from office. By contrast, the powers of the executive and the judiciary are reactive, and their decisions contingent on Congress’s consent.
The Constitution’s assignments of responsibility aren’t superstitious taboos. They’re more like instructions in an engineering manual. The federal government is a machine designed to “run on” congressional direction the way a car runs on gasoline. No other fuel will work. This isn’t because legislators are wiser or better than executives or jurists; it’s because in our system they’re closer and more accountable to the people. The particular work done by the executive and judicial branches benefits from some insulation from the public — and so the Founders granted it. But unaccountable power is inherently dangerous. So the Founders gave the legislative branch overwhelming strength to keep the other two in their lanes, and then — belts and suspenders — subjected legislators to relentless democratic accountability: local constituencies with diverse perspectives and opinions; transparent debate and voting; mechanisms — including the Senate — to require compromise and protect minority views; and, above all, frequent elections. Indeed, even the exclusivity of Congress’s legislative powers was purposely devised to be a lever of accountability. It allowed Americans to isolate the source of policy mistakes.
The Founders wrote the Constitution this way to leave legislators nowhere to hide. In the system they designed, if any part of the federal government was broken, Congress’s fair share of the blame was almost all of it.
When it comes to state level power instead of federal power, I would ask progressives to again read the Constitution and concentrate on the 10th amendment. As a progressive, you are in favor of sanctuary cities and state-level legalization of medical marijuana, right? If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, you would want abortion to still be legal in your state, right? That can happen if state powers trump federal powers, at least in some important areas.
Please read this article pointing out that in an era of Republican control, progressive leaders are fighting battles on the state level (as they should).
To sum up, I am going to try to appeal to the common sense of any progressive readers: can you see that a less powerful Trump is a less dangerous Trump? Can you see that a more restrained Supreme Court is a less powerful and therefore less dangerous Supreme Court? Can you see that you may still have progressive polices on the state level even if other states have less progressive policies?
Progressives have been cheering on more powerful executive and judicial branches since the early 20th century. And progressives have had a long string of victories under ascendent executive and judicial branches. (But even during this long progressive era, there have been warnings about unrestrained executive and judicial power — remember when FDR threw Japanese Americans in concentration camps and the Supreme Court said it was legal?) There is a chance, and I would predict a very strong one, that we are about to see a change. An executive under Trump and/or Pence will not bring very many progressive victories — if any. And a federal court system dominated by Trump and/or Pence appointees will be a horrific nightmare for progressive activists.
So, while we have very different worldviews, can we perhaps agree on one thing: let’s work together to decrease the power of the Trumps and Pences and the judges and increase the power of the individual states. It is the truly American thing to do.