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Do We still have Three Branches of Government in America?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]hen I was in college in the 60s I took a required course in American Government. It had chapters on Federalism, the Constitution, Checks and Balances, the Three Equal Branches of Government, the demarcation, separation and balancing of power.

As I studied those traditional institutions of the American polity called the United States, so different in many respects from those of other countries and therefore so exemplary to other democracies, I took it for granted that in the future they would remain part of its identity as a nation. Sadly, I am no longer confident that such is and will continue to be the case. Those institutions seem outdated now. What we have around today are “alternate facts.”

What I found intriguing in the formation of this unique form of government, was that the greatest power, taxation, spending, decisions on war, confirmation of members of the President’s Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court was not located in the White House, the executive branch, but in Congress. Yes, the new nation was a republic, but most importantly, it was also a democracy. The American people, choose who does the governing.

In other words, a parliamentary system wherein legislative and executive powers were joined, had been definitely rejected. Ultimately it is the people, and not the parties, that rule.

All of the above might still have been largely true in the 60s, but one wonders now if it’s still accurate. It is apparent by the fanfare with which a pompous egomaniacal president signs his plethora of executive orders, that the presidency is a centrifuge sucking power from Congress and the sovereign states constituting the confederacy. Those executive orders and regulations have all the semblance of law, but it is only a semblance.

To some extent this state of affairs also exists in the Supreme Court which has held that on most policy questions, statute trumps fiat. The implication seems to be that Congress ought to subordinate its constitutional duties to political concerns.

Congress has steadily abandoned its constitutional responsibilities and its ability to serve as a check on the executive. Consequently, rather than a horizontal structure as intended by the founding fathers, we have ended up with a vertical pyramid with the President sitting on top.

The problem today is that on both sides of the fence Republicans and Democrats in Congress think of themselves not as a separate branch of government, but as messengers of their political parties.

Congress dropped the ball, so to speak, when it attempted to reassert its authority on the declaration of wars, which, as the Constitution prescribes, only Congress can initiate. It tried to mitigate presidential overreach when in 1973 via the War Powers Act they provided that Congress could step in in a presidentially initiated conflict within 60 days of its inception. It is doubtful that any Congress would interrupt a war and abandon troops engaged abroad. In effect Congress abdicated its function of people’s representative by leaving presidents free to initiate conflicts.

Moreover, Congress, who holds the power of the purse, now allows presidents to first submit their proposed federal budgets before even beginning serious discussions about spending decisions.

The judiciary is till theoretically and constitutionally separate from the other two branches, but the fact is that both Republicans and Democrats vies the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, not as an arbiter, but as a branch of the legislature. What seems to be uppermost on those who have to approve nominees is how he/she will rule on controversial political questions. There now in place a litmus test for any potential court nominee. The question is not whether or not the nominee is qualified to function judicially, but whether or not he is a liberal or a conservative. A Supreme Court nominee is viewed as another vote in the Senate.

So, what do we have today of the separation of powers? Basically this: the separation is no longer between the three constitutionally created branches of government but between a branch which consists of the president and his supporters in Congress and on the federal bench, and a branch made up of the opposition party, opposition to the president, those who oppose him in Congress and their co-partisans on the bench. It is beginning to look like a war between fiercely competitive political clubs.

In his Leviathan, Hobbes declares that one of the functions of governments is that of preventing abuses of the weak by the powerful of this world. Machiavelli makes a similar point. What the US founding fathers point out, however, via the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is that governments too need to be prevented from committing abuses; hence the necessary divisions of authority between the states and central government, and between the branches of the federal government.

The question arises: are we teaching today’s students the same system of government taught in the 60s, the one conceived by the founding fathers? Or, is it a failed system no longer corresponding to the present reality? If that is the case, ought we not be making them aware of that unfortunate fact, at the risk of teaching them an alternate reality with alternate facts?

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Weather and White House Turmoil as Elections Loom

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc as it traversed the Florida panhandle.  The first Category 5 hurricane to hit the area since 1881 when records began, its 155 mph winds (only 5 mph short of Category 6) felled massive trees, blew away houses, collapsed buildings and left devastation in its wake.  Relatively fast moving at 14 mph, it was soon gone continuing as a Category 3 into neighboring Georgia and then further up its northeasterly path.  It seemed to signify a stamp of approval for the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on holding earth to a 1.5 degree Celsius warming issued a couple of days earlier.  We are at one degree now so storms can only be expected to get worse.

In northeastern Turkey, a 300-year old stone bridge disappeared overnight.  Villagers convinced it had been stolen called in the police.  Further investigation concluded it had been washed away by a flash flood caused by a sudden summer thunderstorm further upstream — clearly far more intense than in the previous three centuries.

Ever more powerful hurricanes, monsoons and forest fires point to a proliferation of extreme weather events that experts relate to global warming.  Yet President Donald Trump and his administration remain obdurate in climate change denial.

Thins are certainly warming up in the White House.  Nikki Haley announced her resignation in an amicable meeting with the president.  A staunch defender of many of Mr. Trump’s most egregious foreign policy changes, the UN Representative will be leaving at the end of the year to pursue opportunities in the private sector.  So said the announcement.  An astute and ambitious politician she has probably reassessed the costs versus benefits of remaining in a Trump administration.  Some tout her as a future presidential candidate.  Should she be successful she will be the first woman president, who also happens to be of Indian and Sikh ancestry.

The rap singer Kanye West visited the president in the Oval office.  A ten-minute rant/rap praising him was followed by a hug for which Mr. West ran round the wide desk that had been seemingly cleared of all paraphernalia for the performance.  He is one of the eight percent of blacks voting Republican.  Sporting the Trump trademark, Make-America-Great-Again red hat, he claimed it made him Superman, his favorite superhero.  And some suggested it was all further proof the place had gone insane.

A little over three weeks remain to the U.S. midterm elections on November 6th.  Their proximity is evidenced not by rallies or debates rather by the barrage of negative TV ads blasting opponents with accusations of shenanigans almost unworthy of a felon.  A couple of months of this and you lose any enthusiasm for voting.  Perhaps it is one reason why nearly half the electorate stays home.  Given such a backdrop, the furor over ‘Russian meddling’ in elections appears to be a trifle misplaced.  Others call the whole business a ‘witch hunt’ and state flatly the U.S. does the same.

The old idiom, ‘put your own house in order’ is particularly apt when we realize the beginning of this affair  was a Democratic National Committee email leak showing ‘the party’s leadership had worked to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign’.  It resulted in the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Always fair, aboveboard elections?  Not bloody likely, as the British would say.  Given the rewards, it’s against human nature.

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The hot November for Trump is arriving

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Political turmoil in the United States has become extremely unpredictable. The turn of events became worse with an op-ed at the New York Times on September 5. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon described it as a coup against Donald Trump.

The reality is that the president faces domestic problems in his second year in office. This has rarely happened in the US political history. The issue is of great importance with regard to the approaching mid-term congressional elections in November. Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but they feel the risk of losing the majority in both houses due to Trump’s record.

Indeed, a feeling has emerged among some American politicians that their country is heading in the wrong direction because of Trump’s policies. Even former President Barack Obama has joined the election campaigns by breaking his promise not to get involved in political affairs.

The situation is not also good for Trump internationally. Disagreement with the European Union – a traditional ally of the United States – over trade and political issues, trade war with China, increasing tension with Russia, exit from international treaties such as the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement Iran, have all made Trump to look dangerous in the eyes of the world. All these issues have made the situation unfavorable for Trump and his government at home and abroad.

But what is the answer of the president of the United States to these criticisms? The answer to this question is one word: economy. However, Trump is proud of his economic record.

According to statistics, the Labor Department published on September 8, US employment growth in August has beat market expectations, the non-farm payrolls increased by 201,000 from the previous month. Analysts were expecting growth of about 195,000.

The unemployment rate for August remained low at 3.9 percent. The average hourly wage rose 2.9 percent from the year before. That’s the highest level since June 2009. The latest figures are increasing speculation that the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate this month. The US economy expanded 4.2 percent in the April-to-June quarter, and is expected to grow more than 3 percent in this quarter.

But the economy cannot keep the president of the United States from the edge of criticism. Trump is in a difficult situation and worried about the result of the election and possible control of Congress by Democrats.

Issues such as the confessions of Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen on bribing women for having affairs with Trump and Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 presidential election could possibly lead to his impeachment and his dismissal from power.

The US constitution says that the impeachment of the president should be endorsed by representatives from both chambers of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats now have 49 seats in the 100-member Senate, and if they get 51 seats in the November election, they will still need at least 15 Republican senators to impeach Trump.

Still, if Democrats win the November election, even if this victory does not lead to Trump’s impeachment, it can put further pressure on him and cripple his government. According to a CNN poll, decrease in Trump’s popularity even among his supporters shows that the days following the November election will be hard times for Trump and his government.

First published in our partner MNA

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From Obama to Al Gore: Democrats taking stance against Trump

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Overcoming the current president of the United States has turned into the main goal of the Democrats in the United States. American Democrats who have been isolated in the last two years, and lost the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and many governorates, are now planning to win the Congress elections.

On the other hand, the public dissatisfaction raised over the performance of the US President has given hope to the Democrats for winning the midterm elections.

The president of the United States, speaking among his proponents, has warned about the Democrats’ victory in the US midterm elections. Trump has explicitly stated that if Democrats win the elections, many of his decisions will be destroyed. The US Democrats believe that if they fail in midterm elections, they won’t be able to return to power at least until 2024. Therefore, the Democrats will do their best to succeed in the upcoming elections. As we get closer to the Congress elections in November, we will see an increase in the verbal and political attacks of Democrats against Trump and his companions at the White House. Some analysts believe that if the Republicans fail in the mid-term elections, we’ll see a broad gap formed between the traditional Republicans and the Trump government. This gap exists at the moment, but the leaders of the Republican Party and its affiliated media avoid from fully disclosing it. However, it seems that if the Republicans lose the US Congress, it will be difficult for the Republican leaders to continue this game! In this case, Trump will be the main accuser of this defeat. The Democrats know well that the Republican defeat in the midterm elections will intensify the disagreement between the party members, and thus will lead to the possible defeat of Trump in the next presidential elections.

In recent days, many of the American Democrats have intensified their verbal and political attacks on President Donald Trump. Former Secretary of State John Kerry implicitly stated that he would not rule out running for president in 2020. Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 but ultimately lost the election to former US President George W. Bush. He had also emphasized on the critical situation of the United States following the presence of Trump at the White House. Also Al Gore, the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate, publicly called for President Donald Trump to resign. Moreover, former US President Barack Obama challenged the existing policies in the United States during John McCain’s funeral, without naming Trump. Delivering his eulogy, Obama said: “So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage.”

The fact is that one of the main goals of the American Democratic Party leaders in their recent political attacks on Trump is winning the US mid-term elections and the conquest of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Right now the republicans hold the majority of the Congress, and many members of the party, while opposing Trump’s policies, are not willing to confront him and stand up against the White House. But the Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to provide the ground for their victory in the 2020 presidential elections by explicitly criticizing, and even resisting to some of Trump’s decisions. Democrats such as John Kerry, believe that if the Republicans fail in the Congress midterm elections and lose their dominance on the House of Representatives and Senate, it will be difficult for Trump to win the 2020 presidential elections. However, if the democrats fail this time against Republicans, just like the way they did in 2016, and lose seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Trump will not have a difficult way to win the next presidential election. Many American think-tanks and analysts believe that the mid-term elections this year (2018) will turn into a rigorous opposition between Trump’s supporters and opponents.

It should be noted here that Democrat candidates for the presidential election in 2020 are not yet introduced. As John Kerry has announced, this is supposed to be after the Congress elections. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and John Kerry are considered as possible candidates for the next US presidential elections. However, some Democrat leaders believe that they should introduce a new figure for this battle.

It is yet not clear that who will be the final nominee of the Democrats, but it seems that many of the party’s supporters do not have much confidence in their leaders anymore! In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Bernie Sanders became the sacrifice of the secret lobbies of the Democrats’ senior figures. Later on, it became clear that Democrat leaders had agreed on Hillary Clinton’s presence from the very beginning, and the impartial gesture in the Clinton-Sanders competition was nothing but a lie. This caused many of the American citizens to vote for Trump instead of Sanders. Anyway, this time the Democratic Party has a hard time to persuade the party’s supporters, and the Congress elections will, to a great extent, depict the political and social composition in the United States.

First published in our partner MNA

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