Saturday, December 31, 2016
It Feels So Good When I Stop
December 31, 2016
Damn, I've got to get this bad boy finished before the new year, so the few of you out there who follow won't think I've fallen into a rabbit hole because of the election, or something....ahem.....
There's an old anecdote that goes more or less like this: A man is observed repeatedly hitting himself in the head with a two-by-four. When asked why he would be doing such a thing he replies, "Because it feels so good when I stop."
A few weeks ago I was hoping to be able to begin this posting with the immortal words of Gerald Ford, probably the only immortal words that guy ever spoke, "Our long national nightmare is over." He made this pronouncement as he assumed the presidency in August 1974 upon the resignation of Richard Nixon, after a couple of years of harrowing and ever-more-incriminating revelations about the bad actions of the Nixon administration in connection with what we refer to as Watergate.
As I said, I was hoping to open with that quote. Only of course our long national nightmare isn't over. It feels as if it's been going on forever, but now it has taken a turn for the worse, and for the somewhat different. Some might say that it's really only beginning. In the carnival that has been the campaign of 2015-16, we have left a house of mirrors and entered a house of horrors.
As full of hatred of Donald Trump as I am, and as angry as I might be at the wretched souls who voted for him, or who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton out of some disinclination to support her despite the obvious alternative, or who stayed home when they could have and should have voted for her, thereby allowing Trump to win the election, I am nevertheless something of an optimist in general. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Dr. Pangloss from Candide, believing that we are in the best of all possible worlds, nor am I so besotted with the U.S. political system that I think everything is going to work out for the best because, by God, we live in the best of all possible countries.
Our constitutional system is a pretty neat and clever one, however, and as effective in its own way as are, for example, the rules of baseball, in that it works consistently and reliably in spite of who and what comes along to fuck it up, and can tolerate the great, the mediocre, and the downright bad. Like the rules of baseball, the constitution can be tinkered with (we use the term amended), but not without major undertaking. And also, as with with the rules of baseball, not everyone who is aware of the basic way the constitution works knows the rules, and only a comparative few know them completely and intimately.
Many citizens of other countries, for example, see only the President and his actions on the international front, and think, erroneously, that he operates the way a premier or prime minister does and that our government operates like a parliamentary system, that is, with almost total control of both the executive and legislative processes in the hands of the ruling party or a coalition of ruling parties. One of the most striking aspects of world politics is the fact that, despite the great power and influence of the United States in the world at large, virtually no country of any importance has a system of government like ours. This is due, I think, to two factors. One is that as a direct colonial power we have done very little worldwide. We have colonized with our goods and money and weapons and influence, but not with our direct governmental control, as have the great powers of Europe, in particular Great Britain and France. As a result we have have not spread our system of governance to others the way those two powers have. So most of the rest of the comparatively enlightened "democratic" world--Europe, Japan, Israel, Canada, parts of South Asia, etc., use the parliamentary approach (whether or not they use the term "parliament"), which gives the majority party pretty much carte blanche run the country as it sees fit, of course within certain established limits. This is why, in a parliamentary democracy, a new political party in power is called a "new government," rather than a "new administration." The second reason our particular style of constitutional government hasn't caught on elsewhere is that we were conceived in a comparative instant of time as a federation of semi-independent states held together by a limited federal government, and not as one unified, centrally-operated country. The degree of individual power of states--the power to tax, to punish, to regulate, to elect a President--in this country is not really rivaled in other countries, and is little understood elsewhere.
Thus it is that people outside this country, who see only the unifying (or divisive) face of the President, tend to think, and perhaps fear, that he has more power than he really does. Of course he does have power--the power to nuke us all, for example, which is a hell of a lot of power--but it's of a limited type, and utterly unique and irreversible in its execution. Our President's power is rather like the power of some ancient god to hurl thunderbolts, but not to control the actions of his own quarreling children.
These days my thoughts have been more and more given over to the subtler nuances of the workings of the U.S. government--to the balance of power among its three branches, those famous "checks and balances." And also I've been thinking, wistfully, about the power of the minority to disrupt the workings of the majority, a power deftly employed by the Congress against the Obama administration (and in previous years against the Clinton administration). I admit this a mechanism of mental defense as I prepare for the inevitable takeover of the executive branch by Donald Trump and what is shaping up to be the cruelest gang of rogues, misfits, and ass-clowns in the history of the country. I say "inevitable takeover" because (despite the musings and prognostications of silly people like Michael Moore, a person whose first few movies were good grim fun, but who has now become a blowhard of the first order and an embarrassment to progressives the nation over) Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017, and will be in charge of the executive branch of the government, barring a completely unforeseen circumstance.
While I was still writing this people like the aforementioned Michael Moore and tons of handwringers on the leftish side of things were hoping for an electoral college miracle, which of course didn't happen and was about as likely to occur as the earth getting threatened by a giant meteor and then being saved by Billy Bob Thornton. The next things these feckless folks will have to let pass are the opportunity for President Obama to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court while the Senate is in recess, and the chance that no one will show up at the inauguration except one Mormon and Ted Nugent, pissing Trump off so much that he'll decide not to take office.
So, back to the realm of the possible. The Senate minority does have the power to filibuster nominees for cabinet positions and the Supreme Court. Let's see if they have the energy or the guts to do it. (And no, signing some stupid petition on Facebook isn't going to make it happen.) And let's see if the two or three Republicans who seem to be more pissed at Trump than the others will be willing to switch sides from time to time. And even with an even-trade replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court, that body will be composed exactly as it was when gay marriage was legalized nationally. So as long as the octogenarians don't croak we're okay there.
Oh, and a word about constitutional amendments. Stop talking about them, everybody. They're not going to happen because they're too difficult to enact, and I'm sick of hearing people bandy about the idea that we should ban this or that by an amendment. Like the electoral college. Really? A Republican congress that has just acquired a Republican President who got less votes than his opponent did, for the second time in 16 years, is going to decide all of sudden to eliminate the thing that allowed that to happen? (Oh, and 38 state legislatures are going to go along with it?) I've got a better idea. Let's amend the constitution to ban Facebook and Twitter.
Well, I'm rambling. Got to wrap this up and get it out before the new year. Tell you one thing: it'll feel good to stop thinking about this shit, whether it happens via the ballot box, by fire, or by the sword.