Blog 146. Constitutional Crisis?

I hear dire predictions of a “constitutional crisis.” Is this just crackbrained nonsense from anti-Trump media, or is it a reasoned argument?

A constitutional crisis occurs when officials violate the constitution but no agency is capable of enforcing corrective action.

The constitution specified independent legislative, administrative, and judicial branches as “checks and balances” against an oppressive government. Thus, the federal government was designed to be inefficient so it couldn’t become despotic. Concerns now come as the Senate refuses to act on bills from the House. A few years ago, the Senate leadership refused to process any nomination for the Supreme Court by Obama. That’s stopping government and stacking the judiciary to suppress any political action not approved by the Tea Party. The press and media fret when Congress—and even the president’s staff—learn of policy changes from his tweets rather than from orderly discussion. That’s a success for the president. Surprise is a weapon, in the military and in politics. It keeps the President in the headlines, to his political advantage.

Does this imply a constitutional threat, or is this merely apparent idiocy? Is constitutional violation really the problem, or do some people have emotional upset with governance by twitterbits?

Immigration is a hot, divisive issue, but the real difficulty is bigger than immigration. We face mass migration into a divided society where the top 1% took home 22% of the income and the “homeless” already occupy city streets. In the “land of opportunity,” advancement is inherited at the top; inequality is inherited at the bottom. Even so, the migrants come, while their cultural problems migrate with them. That would be a constitutional crisis only if two branches of government applied opposing rules. The constitution says nothing about immigration, only about “persons” and “citizens.”

The hazard lies in our politics, the method for making social decisions, a process now operating by resentment, not debate. The public remains distracted by the echo chambers of social media while unlimited donations buy political influence. The Federal Reserve artificially maintains low interest rates to support inflation, which is a preferential taxation on the poor.

But do these social cancers indicate constitutional threats?

Yes, because a fraction of the congress rigidly obeys loyalty to a president rather than evaluating rational solutions. Yes, because Congress intentionally manipulates the judiciary. Yes, because political correctness on the left and right both restrict exploration, discussion, and compromise. Yes, because elections are legally bought and gerrymandered. Those constraints generate power contrary to the democratic intent of the constitution.

If the three branches of government are linked, especially by purchased political influence, constitutional democracy evolves toward a dictatorship.

The President dominates the news because his actions appear unstable, and because he demands personal loyalty above dedication to constitutional principles. But the President himself isn’t the threat. The threat is the loyalties of persons throughout the government. Personal loyalty, party loyalty, and ideological loyalty above public well-being. That’s true whether directed from the right or the left.

We will have a constitutional crisis if Congress and the President both fail their prescribed duties, or if a partisan court decides between them.

What’s failure? The function of government is to protect those things held in common.

The antiquated constitution offers little guidance for what is private and what is common. Is the constitution threatened with crisis because it cannot guide governance under today’s polarizing complexity? We’ll deal with that in the next post, Blog 147.

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