Wary of an autocratic British King, the Founding Fathers established a political system that was designed to help insure that this nation would remain a Constitutional Republic. They set up three branches of government with offsetting powers, executive, legislative, and judicial. Although the Constitution does not specifically mention “separation of powers,” it contains checks and balances to prevent the executive branch from becoming all powerful, with Congress as the primary check on the president.
Over the course of the ensuing 230 years since the Constitution was ratified in 1788 it has been tested many times. But I believe it is about to be tested like never before.
The forces that would diminish our democratic government have been building for decades, mostly in the shadows. The halls of Congress have become infested with hundreds of lobbyists that represent powerful special interests. The perks they lavish on legislators and the support they provide to political campaigns gives them a seat at the table when policies are made and legislation is drafted.
Unfortunately, money is the lifeblood of politics. To be viable, candidates must have a large campaign war chest. This means politicians can literally be bought by the highest bidder. To make matters worse the conservative majority of the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions are people and that money is speech in the 2010 Citizens United case. This decision opened the flood gates of anonymous (dark-money) funding of politicians.
But money isn’t the only threat to democracy; there are numerous others. Partisan congressional redistricting is certainly one. And although both parties have abused the process, the 2011 redistricting (gerrymandering) in Republican controlled states was particularly egregious.
Another threat is the strict voter ID laws that have been enacted in most Republican-controlled states. These laws go far beyond simply requiring voters to show a photo ID. They were designed to make it harder for minorities, typically democrats, to vote.
In the presidential election Hillary Clinton carried less than 500 counties while Donald Trump carried almost 2,600. So it is obvious that Republicans are taking control of the state capitols in many of the more rural states. And with gerrymandered districts, Republicans have retained control of the U.S. House even though nationwide more votes are frequently cast for Democrats. We experiencing a tyranny of the minority.
According to a November 2016 Washington Post article, Republicans will totally control 25 states and partially control 20 others in 2017. And conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers have set up complex political organizations to pour millions into state legislative and judicial races to further cement GOP control over state governments. With this power, Republican states could one day force conservative Constitutional amendments.
During the next four years Trump will likely appoint two or more conservative justices to the Supreme Court. And a radicalized Republican Party has demonstrated during the past eight years and the early weeks of the Trump presidency that congressional Republicans will only apply checks on the executive branch if the president is a Democrat.
Now we have President Donald Trump who attacks the judiciary when its decisions go against him and the media if they publish something he doesn’t like. Why? With Congress in his pocket, these are the only remaining institutions that can limit his power. And it has become increasingly apparent to me that Trump has little appreciation for the rule of law or any understanding of the Constitution and its checks and balances.
We have a Republican-controlled Congress that wants to decimate the federal government except for defense. They think climate change is a hoax, that money in politics is just fine, that corporations should be left to regulate themselves and that the nation can afford to give tax cuts to the wealthy but can’t afford to provide adequate health care for its citizens.
Polls indicate that the majority of Americans want reasonable gun controls, higher taxes for the wealthy, affordable health care, limitations on climate change and better education for their children. And they want Medicare and Social Security left untouched, as Trump promised. Do these statistics impress Republicans in Congress? NOT IN THE LEAST. They are charging ahead to do exactly the opposite of what most people want.
So here are my questions: What has happened to government of the people, by the people and for the people? Has it become a victim to gerrymandering, voter ID laws, special interests and big money in politics? And what is happening to the separation of powers that the Founders carefully set up in the Constitution to protect us from an autocracy?
The three branches of government will soon be primarily controlled by conservative ideologues. The Justice Department, which is supposed to protect citizen’s rights under the Constitution, is headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a right-wing conservative who is almost certain to do Trump’s bidding. Consequently the separation of powers is being eroded to the point that our Constitutional Republic is in serious jeopardy.
It is quite clear that we can no longer take democracy for granted. And I am not confident that Republicans in Congress will move to check an anti-democratic Trump. So there is only one sure way democracy can be saved, strong, constant and peaceful action by “we the people.”
Folks, it is time to get involved — before it’s too late.