Our Constitution Cannot Save Us

Not by itself, anyway. It’s only a piece of paper. It spells out rules for operating our government. If the people (be they inside or outside of government) refuse to respect those rules, then that piece of paper accomplishes nothing. It is worth exactly our commitment to it — no more and no less than that.

The people inside of government are doing a very poor job of following those rules. And we’re enabling them. Our collective commitment to that piece of paper is faltering.

Consider:

The nepotistic Trump administration has openly violated the Hatch Act almost continuously since taking office. From using their offices to promote their businesses or those of political allies to diverting government employees to their properties to political quid pro quo, this administration clearly treats the Office of the Presidency as a source of revenue to be exploited. (This is exactly how “running the government like a business” should be expected to look. How else could it look?) Those in government who might hold the White House accountable for this rampant corruption refuse to do so. They refuse to do so because they fear retribution from the voters.

Joe Arpaio, representing the Executive Branch as he did when he was a Sheriff, ignored a direction from the judicial branch regarding his violations of civil rights. His flouting of this check by the judicial branch upon the executive branch landed him in jail. He was pardoned by the Chief Executive, President Donald Trump. Checks and balances? Subverted.

Federal Law enforcement officers dispatched against the wishes of local officials to suppress dissent are violating the due process rights of peaceful protesters. They’re doing it openly, and brazenly, all the while pretending that they’re in the right. Perhaps they actually believe they are in the right. They are not. Those in government who would hold these officers accountable for their violations of the law refuse to do so. They refuse to do so because they fear retribution from the voters.

Numerous associates of Donald Trump have been convicted of lying to investigators in order to protect President Trump. President Trump has intervened in the investigations of himself and these associates, and used his pardon power to reward perjury that protects him.

Donald Trump has admitted in public and in front of cameras to the commission of crimes. But he avoids any indictment for these crimes because an extra-constitutional Justice Department memorandum — never approved by either of the other two branches — exempts a sitting president from indictment. The Justice Department is a part of the Executive Branch, and reports, ultimately, to the President. So the Executive Branch has effectively exempted its own boss from being prosecuted for any crime. The only lever available for holding a criminal President accountable is impeachment and removal by the Congress.

Speaking of which… The administration obstructed the attempt by members of the House of Representatives to investigate illegal acts by the President. They refused to surrender demanded documents. They refused to testify before the House. Despite this unprecedented obstruction of Congress, the House nevertheless accumulated sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to send articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Along party lines, the Senate chose repeatedly to ignore evidence in President Trump’s trial, then finally chose to acquit him of all charges related to criminal activity to which he admitted. The Senate took the extraordinary step of deciding that the President wasn’t guilty of the crimes he had confessed to, simply because he said that they weren’t crimes while he was confessing to them.

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. “

- George Orwell _1984_

These are the actions of a president who doesn’t feel constrained by either law or convention. Indeed, his belligerence and braggadocio are precisely the qualities his supporters adore in him. They’re also qualities that are ill-suited to service in government.

Governments run by compromise far more often than by consensus. Rarely do all the disparate factions of a population fully agree on anything. So in order to accomplish things, the people in government — and the people they represent — must accept that some of their goals must be sacrificed in order that others can be met. It’s how governments have run since we abolished the monarchy.

But increasingly, the American people abhor compromise. We demand that our representatives pass purity tests. Each representative must espouse a voter’s every ideal, or that representative will be cast aside. Each representative must reliably oppose any legislation that fails to meet that voter’s every goal, or that representative will be cast aside. Compromise is condemned as a vice.

Because extreme voters are the most reliable voters, these purity tests are distilling out extreme candidates. The process can be seen in both parties, but it’s far more pronounced on the Right. I believe this is an artefact of the reality of Republicans’ hold on power: They leverage peculiarities in our government’s structure and electoral processes to turn a minority of the popular vote into a disproportionate amount of power. This reality has caused Republican politicians to rely upon the dedication of their most extreme voters to a degree that Democrats haven’t yet needed. But before you cast too many partisan aspersions, know that the shift is happening in the Democratic Party, as well.

Donald Trump is the ultimate product of this distillation process. As such, he has profound support among the extremists in the Republican Party, but is disliked by his party’s moderates.

Joe Biden is a moderate. He has managed to win the Democratic Party’s nomination through the determination of the Democratic Party’s moderates, and despite complaints by those at the edge of the party that he is inadequately pure. (And yes, I know that the Democrats’ “far left” are in line with Europe’s middle. This isn’t Europe. We have the population that we have, not the population that Europe has.)

I am of the opinion that an effective president must be moderate. This is necessitated by the fact that they are tasked with representing the entire country. The House of Representatives, which has the highest resolution of representation (each Representative represents the smallest number of people), should have the greatest diversity among its members. There should be some who are far to one end of the political spectrum and others who are far to the other. Senators each represent more people than Members of the House of Representatives, and so should have a lower degree of diversity among its members. And I think we have something close to this ideal — everywhere except in the White House, where Donald Trump reigns as a right-wing extremist, rather than being the moderate the office requires.

Donald Trump passes extreme right-wing purity tests. He’s uninterested in compromise. He’s uninterested in following the rules of our Constitution, and he has enough enablers among the various branches of government — and, importantly, among the public — that he’s very nearly ruling as a dictator right now. (I shudder to consider how a second term might look.)

He must be ousted from the White House in November. That’s absolutely essential. But it’s also only the start. The voters need to stop demanding purity from our politicians. We need to embrace compromise. We need to accept moderate candidates who might not agree with us on all of our goals. We need to learn to respect people who disagree with us, and to hear them out in their own words, rather than listening to friendly pundits who spin propaganda for the purpose of spoiling our understanding of them. We need to resist the temptation to let expediency shred the rules written on the piece of paper we call our Constitution.

Donald Trump isn’t the problem; he’s merely a symptom of it. We’re the problem. If we want to save our country, it is we who must change. So by all means, observe the failings of your political opponents. But look also for your own. And as you point out your opponents’ mistakes and hypocrisies, listen to their accusations of your own.

US Navy veteran. 20+ years commercial nuclear reactor operator. Currently electric grid operator. Father, husband, political junkie, atheist.