Saturday, November 5, 2016

Protecting Our Governmental Institutions

I have mentioned in past posts that I watch Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time.  Often he has mentioned his desire to get President Obama on the show, and last week he announced that he had finally achieved that goal, although the appearance was taped, not live.  Along with as large an audience in eight years, I tuned in for the show last might.

To be honest, I found the interview to be just OK.  I think that part of the appeal of Maher's show is that it is live, and it seemed that something was missing in his performance.  Perhaps his constraint was due to his respect for the President.  I expect that next year. Maher will be able to book Obama on his panel and it will be more entertaining.

I mention this only as a segue into what I thought a very interesting conversation on Real Time after the Obama interview.  David Frum, a frequent panel member on Maher's HBO show, generally represents the opposing viewpoint to the show's tone and perspective.  He is an ex speech writer for the Bush Administration, and is typically portrayed as a neoconservative.  While Maher has had him on the show many times in the past, it should come as no surprise that he booked him on the last show before the election as Frum has publicly stated that he voted for Hillary Clinton.  If you are interested in Frum's writings, he is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and is an often published op ed writer.  In some ways, one might say that he is in the minority in terms of oft read op ed writers, in that he is rational, logical, and civil in his discussions and his work.  His continued popularity encourages me to think that there is still a place for reasoned debate among those with whom you may disagree, without the obvious bias and vitriol that marks so many media outlets that pretend to be news organizations.

Anyway, Frum's problem with today's political discourse, a problem that he lays squarely on the extreme elements of both parties, is the attacks on the institutions of government.  His essay called the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy is a must read if you are interested in some insight on why the American electorate in general, and the Republican party specifically, have accepted the rhetoric of Donald Trump.  

Frum's perspective points to the popularity of both Trump and Bernie Sanders as proof that both parties are at fault in the breakdown of the base protections that preserve our democracy.  Each plays on the fear of Big Government, the insider culture that rewards big donors while marginalizing the needs of the american working class, and the belief that "they are all crooks".  The problem is that the failures of those we elect to govern us are not the fault of the institutions of democracy, but the fault of we, the electorate who continue to be bamboozled by politicians who promise us that we can eat our cake and have it too, and the party establishments, both DEM and GOP, who have long ago passed from country first, in support of policies and laws that help the most, to party first, in support of candidates who share their political affiliation regardless of whether their ideas or plans for governing are good for the country.

Frum quotes statistics that demonstrate that the electorate has often chosen one party for the executive branch, another for the legislative.  Yes, some of that is due to the extreme gerrymandering that exists in the drawing of legislative districts, but it also points to an understanding that it may not be wise for one party to control all three branches of government, that such control can only lead to abuse.  It is why our founders created such a wonderful governmental structure, why so many other countries exhibit such unstable governments, and why, believe it or not, a strong government is one of the cornerstones to prosperity.  But strong in the maintenance of the structure, not strong by having an autocrat or dictator in charge.  Hillary Clinton clearly understands the importance of the branches of government working together to create compromise policies that improve the lives of most people. There is no such thing as a perfect law, a perfect trade agreement, a perfect treaty, where perfect means your side achieved all its goals and the other got shafted.  (Of course, one could site most of the treaties between the US Government and the Indian nations as perfect, unless you were an American Indian).

Donald Trump is clearly running for king of America, and a large percentage of his supporters are making the gigantic mistake of thinking that once he is king, he will pervert our democracy and change everything to favor them.  The left, progressive influence will be ignored, perhaps even put in jail, and all will be right with the world again.  And, I guess as a white male, I should be happy since Trump's vision of "great again" hearkens back to a time when minorities, women, those with different religious, social or cultural beliefs, were kept in their rightful place.  Sadly, as is always the case with absolute power, the country will suffer and those who readily voted for a candidate who has no respect for American democracy (has he said the word rigged a hundred times yet?), no respect for the rights of others who disagree with him, no respect for anyone or anything that doesn't lend itself to praise for Donald Trump, might be surprised when their needs, livable wages, health care insurance, property rights protections that conflict with a business concern, rights for their daughters and granddaughters to make choices about their bodies, are brushed aside with the same ease that they cheer when Trump talks about banning Muslims.

A divided government by its nature leads to conflict.  But the conflict should be about the best way to achieve prosperity, safety, and opportunity.   And, since both sides truly believe their perspective to be the correct path, since both sides include patriots, then the debates should focus on actual proposals, and actual accomplishments.  As Frum rightly points out, Trump has presented very little in the way of concrete plans, using trite phrases like "trust me".   Since the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular among the GOP, despite that fact that many of them now have health care insurance, and/or obtain their health insurance through Medicare and Medicaid, programs that the GOP often target as Big Government intervention in our lives, Trump declares he will repeal it.  When asked what he will replace it with, he says, "something terrific", and the cheers resound.  Will that terrific plan allow young adults to stay on their parent's insurance?  Continue to provide health exchanges for those who cannot get insurance from their employers?  Maintain the ban on rejecting people with pre-existing conditions from being automatically rejected?  Continue the no lifetime cap on insurance payments for the really sick among us?

The truly amazing thing, the sheer brilliance of Donald Trump is that he has convinced millions of people that everyone in Washington is an elite snob who only cares about diverting tax payer and big donor money into their own pockets, and that the government itself, those who run our military, sit on the Supreme Court, meet in Congress to consider and pass laws, enforce the regulations that protect our water and air from pollution, discuss ways to improve education, all of them, know less about what they do than he does.  The fact that he was born rich, has lived the life of those with a golden spoon, uses his failures as a businessman to avoid paying taxes, and exhibits very little knowledge or interest in understanding the complexities of our government and democracy somehow makes him more attractive, not less.

As Frum points out, the guardrails that protect our institutions have been broken through. Unfortunately, too many Americans are cheering that breakdown, unaware of how important those protections are, unaware that their reluctance to appreciate and understand how government works will lead to a government run by someone who does not have the capacity to make it work for them.      


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