Why, America?

As an Australian, I’m something of an outsider when it comes to US politics. But our two nations are at least cousins, and our politics not that much different. Any Australian can tell you, it can get pretty low. We can relate to a distasteful election. What is harder to relate to is the complete crazy from aspirants to your highest office. I’m talking about Donald Trump. Of course I’m talking about Donald Trump.

I’m not one who indulges in the hyperbole that, if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, he will start WWIII and end the world. The presidency is but one office, and Trump is but one man. I do recognise, though, that it is an inordinately powerful office. No other sensible democracy vests so much power in its head of state. In Australia, we have a Queen, and her representative the Governor-General, and their power is only as moral authority or constitutional safety valves. Indeed, most constitutional scholars [citation needed] will recognise that when designing your system of government that putting all this power into one office is dangerous, and shouldn’t be done. Yet, somehow America has made the POTUS work, but not without some real effort.

No constitution is perfect. That may be blasphemy for some originalists in America, but surely it’s not that hard to accept that every mortal is flawed, and so is any document they may draft. Thankfully, no constitution requires omniscience from its drafters and complete perfection in its drafting. As times change, as government is put into practice and the kinks start emerging, we discover that there are certain things that need to be done in a certain way, or not be done at all, in order to make the constitution actually work. That’s how a system of custom is built around the constitution, and it is as important as the written document itself. In fact, the UK does not even have a written constitution, simply centuries of custom. That’s the strength of the Westminster system. It’s built on long practice and pragmatism. Things are done in certain ways not because someone in the beginning put forth some lofty ideals (nice as they are), but because when something broke, we had to fix it. Not as clean as the US, perhaps, but the layer of scar tissue holds everything together.

The US is not Westminster, obviously, but still has a constitution held together by down-to-earth, sensible custom. On the issue of the POTUS, it may not be apparent on the surface, but there are many, many checks and balances that keeps the office ‘in line’, so to speak. And of course, there is the simple respect for the office and for the system of democracy and for the spirit of the law that keeps the office from being abused. And this is where a President Trump will be dangerous. Not because he would know the nuclear launch codes (but you’re right, that’s pretty scary) but because his complete disrespect for the responsibilities of the office and for the finer points of democracy. In fact, he doesn’t even need to win to do damage, it’s already begun. He has a;ready refused to commit to accepting the results of the election. And while that position has rightly drawn condemnation from all corners, it already sets a dangerous precedent. Donald Trump does have a very loyal base. His methods have brought him success. And in the future, there will be those who will run for the office of POTUS who will decide that they don’t have to respect democracy, don’t have to release their tax returns, and don’t have to operate with a shred of dignity, because Donald Trump certainly didn’t have to. Just avoid bragging about sexual assault on camera and you’re gold.

And that’s how America falls, not with a bang but a whimper, not by any outside force but by internal erosion. One a a time, the customs and traditions that hold your system of government together get worn away. Perhaps it won’t happen, and the country will do some thorough self-examination. But once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put back.

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4 thoughts on “Why, America?

  1. I’m not a Trump supporter by any means, but I can understand the people who vote for him.
    As an American, let me put this into context as best I can.
    America has had a long steam of corruption I’m our oval office, dating back to the Carter administration and possibly earlier.
    After the Obama administration pretty much made a deal with Congress to push through healthcare reform that had pretty much improved nothing, lied to the American people over and over, and seen neither side of the isle in our congress take any action to do anything, people are tired of the broken two party system. To many, Trump represents a break in that. He’s someone neither party wants, but many people like what he says, and honestly if you look at some of the plans he had for dealing with terrorism, corruption, and so on. He’s actually got a few good ideas that even I have too admit have me interested.
    It also doesn’t help that on the other side of the isle you have a candidate that is the physical embodiment of everything that is wrong with our current system.
    Clinton is corrupt, she thinks she is above the law, the Wikileaks documents have revealed so much wrong it’s not even funny. The fact that the former party chair it’s now writing for her after stepping down amid the election scandal it’s damning, and her husband, who could wind up being our first gentleman is a sexual offender. We know that now, and it doesn’t help that she tried to help keep it all quiet.
    If our nation want so used to corruption thanks to an unscrupulous and biased media, and the Whitehouse want trying to protect Clinton, her campaign would have been laughed out of existence long ago.

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    • Thank you for your comment, StCyril. I follow American politics fairly closely, but as an outsider I probably should not be the one to try to persuade you to optimism. As an outsider, though, things don’t look as bad for America as you describe. Obama, viewed from this side of the pond has actually been one of your better presidents (this coming from a country that has enjoyed universal healthcare for a while, though). Even Hillary Clinton, whom I’ve had little love for, is not actually that bad. Going through the (so far unverified) Wikileaks e-mails, the worst that can be imputed on her personally is that she is very much a politician. That’s hardly flattering, but also not outright ‘corrupt’. Making deals, striking compromises, addressing specific interest groups is simply how the democratic sausage gets made, which can be ugly, but only authoritarianism is clean.

      I will not address your specific concerns about the candidate and other matters, since I think we disagree on many specifics but will make for hollow debate here in the comments of an internet blog. I will say, though, that while there is certainly plenty wrong with your system (as there is with every system), there’s actually less problems with your executive and more with your legislature. And, in any case, the problems are not solved by burning it all to the ground. I know that incremental progress may not be satisfying in the least, but please don’t give up.

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      • Obama may be viewed as better by some nations, but others, he’s viewed as weak…
        Here in the states, he regularly makes bias, partisan comments that creates divides… one of the earliest being ‘I don’t have all the facts, but it seems the police acted stupidly.’
        Then it turned out the police did exactly what they were supposed to. His healthcare reform is useless unless you need $5000+ care and is making healthcare for everyone else more expensive, and several of his domestic policies have done serious damage. On the outside, he may seem great, but to the people who are closer to the heartbeat, not so much.
        I’m sorry, but the DNC broke pretty much every rule in the book when it threw its support behind Hillary. The excuse that what she’s doing is ‘politics as usual’ is EXACTLY what people in this country are tired of and what opened the door to people like Trump in the first place…

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      • Perhaps we source our news differently, but the version of the stories you’re telling does not quite align with the versions I know. There’s little point arguing the details here, though. I wish your nation all the best regardless.

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