Our U.S. Constitution turns 230 years old this month, and it remains the standard of our democracy today. Our country experienced Civil War, world wars, presidential assassinations and a lot of chaos. Over time, as events warranted, amendments have been added to the Constitution. The framers of our Constitution also recognized the risks of one branch of government gaining dominance over another. They separated Congress from the executive and judicial branches, then divided Congress into two houses, in order to guard against the dangers of legislative power.
Congress has ceded authority to the White House and administrative agencies, who now make laws and set national policy. Where Congress declines to pass laws setting national policy on national issues, the policy vacuum is filled inevitably by the president, agencies or courts.
The country is grumpy and confused. We read or watch news reports about “red lines,” hacking, leaking, tweets, alternative facts, fire and fury, “drain the swamp”and government shutdowns. We see our government struggle with misunderstood policies and procedures and blurred-lines of authority. How do we reconcile our lack of trust?
The president speaks for himself: “I (Donald Trump) requested that Mitch M & Paul R(yan) tie the Debt ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy- now a mess!” This followed the president’s threat to shut down the government if he doesn’t get money from Congress to build his border wall with Mexico. Maybe the president will make a trade deal with China for their Great Wall, and use those 4 billion bricks for the wall on the Mexican border, with enough left over to wall off Washington, D.C.
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Many see many of our institutions as corrupt, strangers as suspicious, rivals as illegitimate, facts as negotiable, and politicians influenced by too much by “big money.” Political parties are more ideologically polarized than at any point in the 20th century, leading to Congressional gridlock and greater executive powers.
We must make an educated and meaningful vote. We must choose our political/representative candidates, and not allow politicians to choose their voters. Between 2006 and today, something important happened: The shape of congressional districts was altered in the direction of Republican political candidates. Voter suppression laws, voter manipulation and distortions of voting districts (gerrymandering) must end.
Over the past 10 to 12 years, Democrats lost dozens of seats in Congress and almost 1,000 seats in state legislatures, largely affected by redistricting, or changing voting district populations to favor one party over another. Another effect has come through population shifts. Democrats are now heavily clustered in urban areas; Republicans are spread evenly elsewhere. That makes it more difficult for Democrats to compete in some congressional districts.
The 2020 population census, when voting districts are reconfigured, could lead to further manipulation and voter gridlock. Centrists will be attacked as sellouts, and a record level of intensity of division between the political parties will exist. Democrats need to realize that voters are more likely to condemn big government than big business. Democrats are bracing for a circus-like presidential primary. It’s time to increase citizen-involvement, and to work closely with our local, state and federal representatives.
Congress has the power to hold executive personnel and private citizens in contempt. In practice, though, Congress lacks the means to punish people it holds in contempt. Trump continues to warn independent investigator Robert Mueller to stay away from his financial and real-estate transactions, repeating his declaration of the “red line.” During an interview with the New York Times last month, Trump mentioned that he did expect investigators to find some transactions that undercut his claims that he has had no business with Russia. “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something.” “I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?” And as Jared Kushner said, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia” (2014).
We the people, must continue to defend our democracy. Our constitution is as important to us now, as it was 230 years ago. Let’s help.
Carl Evensen is a resident of Ferguson Township.