There was one thing the Founding Fathers hated and feared the most and it was what we now call “populism.” They structured the federal government in such a way that it is hard to have the government overreach or have the public carried away by the heat of the moment.
Checks and balances, three co-equal branches of government. A House elected directly by the people, a Senate with two members from each state to ensure that large states did not dominate small states. A chief executive chosen by the electoral college. A judiciary to ensure that laws do not violate the constitution.
The two political parties and a supine Congress have undermined the elegant structure that has served us well for over 250 years. We have allowed the rise of the Imperial Presidency. The electoral college has been reduced to a rubber stamp. The Supreme Court has been making law, often because the Congress refuses to do its job.
The checks and balances and the filibuster prevent one political party from running rough shod over the minority. As they say in the tech world, it’s a feature not a bug. But the system is supposed to allow and encourage the majority and the minority to negotiate compromise and reach a consensus. Failure to compromise and negotiate a solution causes gridlock.
Everyone agrees we need a comprehensive bill to control illegal immigration, for example. But Congress has refused to reach a consensus for years now. That has allowed President Trump to use executive orders and allowed federal judges to sort out what he can and cannot do. It’s a patchwork of decisions that create confusion.
Another term for populism is “Bread and Circuses.” When Roman emperors were in trouble, they distracted the populace with free bread and gladiators in the arena or the spectacle of lions eating Christians.
Trump’s version of bread is tax cuts and his version of circuses is to stir up passions with issues that ought not be worthy of interference by the nation’s chief executive. Like athletes kneeling during the national anthem, which is an issue for the fans and the NFL. Or the removal of Confederate statues, which is a state issue. Or threatening school systems unless they open this fall, which is a decision for your local school board. These are issues suitable for cable news squabbling, talk radio calls and the Twitter-verse.
The Democrats make no bones about it. They are the party of various factions, each with their own hobby horse, but under the broad umbrella of big government, one size fits all solutions. The Nanny State.
The Republican Party started off this century with a prescription drug plan that cost $1 trillion but with no plan to pay for it. We went to war in the Middle East and spent $2 trillion, but instead of being asked to sacrifice to pay for it we were told to go to the mall. A recession prompted the spending of hundreds of millions more on bail outs. We find ourselves fighting the pandemic with trillions of dollars in more debt because we started in the hole. How can we ever get control of the federal budget? We have had a roaring economy and booming stock market for the last three years which might have been an opportunity to get a handle on it. What did we do? We cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest among us.
Somewhere the Republicans lost their way.
At the state level, Gov. Bill Lee and the “conservative” General Assembly are attempting to turn state government into a theocracy, regulating people’s private lives according to their fundamentalist views. Harassing gay people, women and the “undeserving” poor. They don’t seem to be able to understand the phrase “Congress shall make no law…” or the state constitution’s stricture “no man can be compelled…”
But it’s understandable when you consider that Lee has confided in people that God told him to run for governor and God has hinted he might make a good president.
Here and there we might be able to find some conservatives left. And after Trump maybe we can have an examination of where we went wrong.
What now? Gov. Bill Lee did an end run around the General Assembly, calling a meeting of the Capitol Commission before two more members chosen by the legislature could be added in an effort to keep a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the capitol. There will likely be some fallout from legislators angry about the decision. It was a lop-sided 9-2 vote which had the constitutional officers Secretary of State Trey Hargett and Comptroller Justin Wilson voting with Lee. The two are elected by members of the legislature so the question arises as to what happens when they are up for re-election. They can argue that the governor had the votes, so voting against removal was moot.
Why did the vote to remove Forrest include Admiral David Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves? Forrest got there as part of a plan to have a hall of military figures and he was added to existing busts of Farragut and Gleaves. Moving Forrest to the state museum into an exhibit of military leaders from Tennessee will thus include Farragut and Gleaves as well.
Game changer? Bill Hagerty, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has resigned from the board of a futures brokerage fund after the National Pulse reported that the CEO of R.J. O’Brien tweeted support for Black Lives Matter. Hagerty opponent Dr. Manny Sethi immediately called out Hagerty, who has been running ads pledging to stand up to Black Lives Matter. Hagerty resigned from the firm saying he could no longer serve since the company supported Marxists who want to overthrow the government. Sethi said Hagerty only resigned because he got caught and he was making money with the firm while he was running ads pledging to stand up to BLM.
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.